§ Order for the Second Reading read.
§ 3.41 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir Samuel Hoare)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The problem with which this Bill deals can be described in a single sentence. During the four years of the War 300 tons of bombs were dropped in this country. I should be within the mark if I said that to-day the lowest estimate indicates that a greater tonnage of bombs could be dropped within the space of 24 hours, and that the scale of attack could be maintained for many days. I do not base on that estimate any mathematical calculation of how many casualties there would be in the event of an attack, or how great the extent of the confusion and chaos would be it attacks of that kind were launched on the country. There are too many uncertainties in war, and too many inaccuracies to be taken into account, to justify any mathematical calculation based on an estimate of that kind, but, making every reservation for inaccuracies and uncertainties, the fact remains beyond fear of contradiction that the position to-day is much more formidable than it was in the years of the War. Indeed, it is so formidable that there are some people in the country who say that it is no use attempting to take defensive measures, that air attack always breaks through and that nothing we can do will be of any effect. I do not take that view, and I am supported by the whole course of British history. Time after time, the British Empire has been faced with great dangers, but never has it been faced with any danger and sat still, inert, inactive, despondent and despairing. Always has it attempted to meet the danger, and always, up to the present, I am thankful to say, it has overcome it. There were in 1917 many who believed that the submarine campaign was going to shake the British Empire to its foundations. [HON. MEMBERS: "It did."] There are many who went further, and believed it would bring the British Empire to an end.
§ Sir S. Hoare
Scientific research, the experience of the naval staff, the courage of the Navy, and British common sense faced the problem, and to-day we are justified in saying that, although we regard the submarine as an extravagant nuisance that ought to be abolished, the submarine is no longer a danger to the security of the British Empire. We have got to make the aeroplane as little dangerous to the British Empire as we have made the submarine. If we are to succeed in our effort, we must have, not only a concentrated, but also a well-balanced programme co-ordinated at the top, stretching over the three particular branches of Service activities. We must have, in the first place, an Air Force strong enough to maintain the initiative in air fighting; secondly, anti-aircraft guns, supported by searchlights and the other methods of modern detection, far more numerous and far more accurate than any we possessed in the War; and, thirdly, on the ground, a system of air-raid precautions that will achieve two objectives: that will, in the first place, ensure the country against panic, and, in the second place, will ensure that the services of the country, without which a civilised community cannot exist, will continue to be maintained. An Air Force that is deficient in either of these two fields is in a position of direct inferiorty to an Air Force that is supported in these two fields. An Air Force may have the same number of first-line machines as that of a hostile Power, but if it is not supported by an effective system of antiaircraft guns and searchlights and an organisation on the ground, it will have a greater difficulty in preventing a panic and a rupture in the national life than that Air Force which is not in a position of this inferiority.
Further than that, it will be impeded at every turn in carrying out its tactics and its strategy. Inevitably, if there is no effective ground organisation, when an air attack takes place there will be such an outcry from the various centres of population for local defence that the Air Force will be tied down to the local defence of this or that centre of industry or population. How well I remember, when I was at the Air Ministry, Lord Trenchard, the pioneer of air strategy, saying to me over and over again, "The Air Force that is tied down to local defence will not be able to maintain its 43 initiative and strategy. It is an Air Force that has lost the air war."I claim that an Air Force that is not supported by this ground organisation will almost inevitably be tied down to local defence, and will find itself in a position of great inferiority to an Air Force supported from the ground. It is essential, therefore, that we now organise a comprehensive plan, as complete as can reasonably be effected, of ground organisation, and, by organising it, we shall be able to go far to guarantee the country against panic and the stoppage of the national life, and we shall be able to enable the Fighting Services to sustain their proper tactics and strategy.
We have already made a beginning. It is unfair to suggest that, during the last two years, nothing has happened except a financial wrangle between local authorities and the Exchequer. In point of fact, we have made not unsubstantial progress in certain directions. Already we have a supply of gas masks for the civil population which, I believe, is better than the supply in any other country in Europe; already we have evolved fire emergency machines upon a considerable scale; already we have accumulated certain necessary supplies; and already, also, the local authorities have, in many cases, prepared comprehensive schemes of defence. Already, and perhaps most significant of all, no fewer than 200,000 men and women in the country have volunteered for air-raid precaution work. That is a beginning. We have now reached the point when we have to proceed to a much more comprehensive and fully organised plan of campaign. As soon as this Bill has passed—and I hope that it will be passed without delay—we have to start a new chapter in which the Government and the local authorities and the citizens in this country will all co-operate to make a much more comprehensive plan of air-raid precautions than anything that we have contemplated during the last few years.
As we look at the contents of this new chapter we shall observe that air-raid precautions differ in certain very important respects from the activities of the fighting services. Air-raid precautions are essentially work for civilians. The field is a civilian field. It is the field of the householder, of the father of a family, of 44 the local council and of the local Red Cross and the other local organisations. It is a field in which the regular troops, if I may use the phrase, are the civilian force of the police. It is a field in which, being so directly connected with law and order, civil problems of every kind come almost inevitably—I wish it were not sounder the civil department of the Home Office. Further it will be found that not only is this, unlike the field of the fighting services, a civilian field, but it is also essentially a local field. The work, in the nature of things, must be done on the spot. The duties that have to be performed are, in many cases, an extension of duties that are already being carried out by the local authorities and by local organisations. Public order, decontamination, sanitation, fire protection, and so on, are already duties of the local authorities, and what is now proposed under this scheme of air-raid precautions is not the imposition of new duties upon them, but the extension of duties that they are already carrying out. The field is a civilian field, and it is also a local field. It is in the local field that the chief activities are bound to take place, and while, therefore, the Government must co-ordinate the scheme, and while the Government, as I shall show a little later, will provide certain emergency items that can be produced centrally, the fact remains that the main work must be done in the individual localities and must be carried out by civilian men and women.
The Bill deals with the greater part of this field, but it does not deal with the whole of the field. It does not deal, for instance, with the question of the public utility services. That is a question which is still under the very active consideration of the Government; it is by no means ignored and is regarded as a very important field, and I shall hope, at no very distant date, to be able to make a statement to the House as to how the Government intend to deal with it. Nor does the Bill, although it deals mainly with the duties of the Government and the local authorities, dispense the individual householder and the individual employer of labour from his elementary obligation to protect himself and his household to the utmost of his ability.
The Bill, as I have said, deals principally with the relations between the Government and the local authorities. 45 The Government undertake to provide the emergency items that can be produced centrally. They also undertake a very large part of the expenditure, about which I shall go into further detail in a few minutes. They also provide the organisation for co-ordinating the various schemes of air-raid precautions. As far as the local authorities are concerned, their main duties are set out in the Memorandum that accompanies the Bill.
Let me draw the attention of hon. Members to what we believe to be these main duties. The list is not exhaustive; it cannot be exhaustive when we are dealing with new services in what I might call the experimental stage. But as far as we understand these duties at present, they are, first of all, arrangements for storage and housing of equipment; secondly, instruction and advice to the public; thirdly, arrangements for the provision of public shelters; fourthly, arrangements for the repair of roads, rescue of persons, clearance of débris and treatment of unsafe buildings; fifthly, arrangements for casualties, detection of poison gas, and decontamination work; and, lastly, arrangements in connection with street lighting and air-raid warnings.
Perhaps I cannot do better, if hon. Members at once are to understand the scope of these provisions, than put into concrete form in a few sentences the kind of action that would be necessary in the event of an air raid. Suppose that this country is threatened with an air raid. The first responsibility will be upon the Government. It will be the duty of the Government, having detected an air raid, to spread over the country the necessary warnings. For that purpose there will, first of all, be the call on the Observers working under the Air Ministry for the purpose of detecting the raid. [An Hori. MEMBER: "Will they be volunteers?"] They are volunteers. Next there will be communications to the threatened parts of the country, where at once the local authorities, and particularly the Air Wardens who will be responsible for the safety of a street or block of houses, will set the local activities in motion.
Let me suppose that the raid takes one of the three most probable forms. As we know, there are three kinds of bombs, the high explosive bomb, the gas bomb and the incendiary bomb. Suppose, 46 first of all, that it is a high explosive bomb that is being used in an air raid. Neither this Government nor, so far as I know, any Government in Europe, can protect a building, short of an overwhelming expense, from a direct hit by a high explosive bomb. It has been calculated that if we attempted protection against direct hits of that kind the expenditure would be 1,500,000,000, and even then we might not attain effective protection. What, therefore, the Government and the local authorities must attempt is to provide protection not against a direct hit but against blast and splinters, and for that purpose the local authorities will provide public shelters, first of all for those people who are caught in the streets, and secondly for those people who, owing to the condition of their houses, cannot provide makeshift refuges under their own roofs. So far as the individual householder is concerned, we propose to give him detailed advice as to how he can improvise a refuge room against the blast and splinters of these bombs. Let me say in passing that I think we shall find that he can improvise a room of this kind at less expense and with less trouble than might be supposed by people who have not been into the details of the problem.
So much for the high explosive. Then we come to the second type of bomb, the gas bomb. The gas bomb is the bomb that is directed principally against the morale of a country. It is the bomb that is intended so to impose itself upon human nature as to weaken the power of resistance of a given country. It is not a bomb for the destruction of property. So far as the gas bomb is concerned, the preparations that we envisage are, first of all, the supply of gas masks for the entire population. I am glad to be able to tell the House that the production is proceeding very satisfactorily, that in a short time we ought to have this full supply, and we ought then to be able to distribute it over the various parts of the country.
First of all then, the gas masks. Secondly, the activities of the local authorities with their gas-proof shelters and their decontamination organisations for which the Government intend to provide the chief item of decontamination, namely bleaching powder. Lastly, so far as the householder is concerned, very careful instruction will be given to him 47 as to how to act in the event of a gas raid and how to make one of the rooms in his house gas proof. As I have said, where, owing to the housing conditions it is impossible for him to carry out these precautions, there will be the emergency shelters of the local authorities available for him.
Lastly, I come to the incendiary bomb.
§ Sir S. Hoare
The same precautions will be taken against mustard gas. Thirdly, I come to the possibility of a raid in which the aeroplanes carry not gas bombs or high explosives but incendiary bombs. I am inclined to think that in the past we have not given sufficient attention to the danger of the incendiary bomb, that is to say, the small bomb that can start a very large number of fires. I am informed that even a medium size bomber, not one of the very large type, but a bedium-size bomber, can start no fewer than 150 separate fires by means of these small incendiary bombs. The average number of fires in London—the right hon. Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) will correct me if I am wrong; at one time I was chairman of the London County Council Fire Brigade Committee—is, I believe, 15 a day. The House will see, therefore, the scope of this new problem with a single machine able to start 150 separate fires. I do not suggest that all those fires would necessarily be serious ones, but what I do contend is that it is essential, if these small fires are not to develop into dangerous conflagrations, that means should be available to put them out almost as soon as they start.
Accordingly, we intend first of all to provide the householder with detailed advice as to how to deal with one of these bombs when it actually drops. Secondly, we have been making a series of very interesting experiments with a view to enabling householders to obtain at very small expense a cheap hand pump and a shovel and a box of sand. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh, but even simple apparatus of this kind, if used quickly as soon as one of these small fires starts, will be efficacious in preventing the fire spreading and a conflagration arising in a great centre of population. So far as the Government and the 48 local authorities are concerned their part in this sphere of the problem is a new one, and I ask the attention of the House to it. The problem is a new one, for a large number of fires started simultaneously would call for new methods. Accordingly for some time the Air-Raid Precautions Department has been experimenting with new types of fire machines, the object being to obtain much greater mobility than anything that has been possible in the past. We feel that the only way to deal with this very large number of fires is to have such great mobility that the machines will be constantly patrolling the streets and not be simply based upon the local fire station, and will be able to visit the principal centres of population say every 10 or 15 minutes.
So far as these machines are concerned, I can report to the House very satisfactory progress. Speaking generally, there are three types of them, coming down to the comparatively small machine, very mobile and rather of the trailer car type, carrying with it not only the means of fire extinction but also an emergency supply of water. We propose that the Government should provide these emergency machines for the local authorities at the expense of the Government in all cases where they are needed for an emergency. This item will be an item of very considerable expense but it comes within the category that I mentioned just now—the category in which the supply is provided centrally and the manufacture is best undertaken centrally. We propose, as I say, to provide the local authorities with these new fighting machines at the expense of the Government where they are required.
§ Sir S. Hoare
The local authorities will man these machines. They will need for the purpose a certain nucleus of whole-time personnel. They will also need a large body of auxiliary helpers. Towards the expense of the personnel the Government will give a grant upon the basis of the Schedule in the Bill.
The House will see the kind of dangers that we envisage and the way in which we propose to face those dangers. We cannot attempt an ideal system of protection. Such a system would run into thousands of millions, which the country could not afford. It would take 49 hundreds of millions away from the even more important duties of the Air Force. But within the bounds of common sense and reason we intend to take precautions upon, the lines I have stated. Moreover, in carrying out schemes of this kind it is essential that we should have the fullest possible co-operation, first, between the Government and the local authorities, arid secondly, and no less important, between the Government, the local authorities and the ordinary householders, the ordinary man and woman in the street.
So far as the Government and the local authorities are concerned, I have sketched the kind of relationship between them in practice. Let me now come to the very important question which has loomed up very prominently in recent months, the question of their financial relations. The House will have noted the fact: that the main duties must, in the nature of things, be carried out by the local authorities. They are a continuation of the existing duties of the local authorities. That being so, the Government have always taken the view that while the Exchequer is prepared to carry the main part of the expenditure, there must be a sharing of financial responsibility between the two. If there is no such share or no such effective share, inevitably there will be no check upon the expenditure. From the first the Government have maintained this position.
Two years ago, when first this question came under discussion, the Government made it perfectly clear that the local authorities must take some share in this expenditure if there is to be an effective check on expenditure. At the end of the summer, anxious as I was to have a Bill of this kind passed through Parliament, I made representations to the local authorities and put before them certain proposals on behalf of the Government. I was very anxious to obtain the good will of the local authorities for the obvious reason that this is essentially work in which their good will is absolutely necessary and in which we must have co-operation between the Government and the local authorities. Accordingly, I put before them proposals that I hoped at the time would have obtained their good will and their unreserved co-operation.
The proposals were on these lines. I divided the activities into two categories. 50 The first category is concerned with the various items such as fire brigade appliances required for the emergency. The second category is that in which the local authorities have the responsibility of administration. As far as the first category was concerned, I undertook that the Government would find substantially the whole of the expense of it. As far as the second category was concerned, in which there was this local responsibility for administration, I suggested that we should go half and half, that the Government should pay 50 per cent. and the local authorities 50 per cent. Much to my regret, and a little to my surprise, the local authorities, very ably led by the right hon. Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) refused my offer and staked out their claim for the full 100 per cent.
Mr. J. J. Davidson
In the negotiations, is the right hon. Gentleman referring to England and Wales or to England, Wales and Scotland?
§ Sir S. Hoare
I am referring to the three constituent parts of the Kingdom. I was greatly disappointed when the right hon. Gentleman did not receive my offer with open arms but, being a very reasonable person and being very anxious to obtain a settlement that carried with it the good will of the right hon. Gentleman and the local authorities, for which he was speaking, I went back to the Government, and we considered whether we could better our offer. We tried again, and I went to the local authorities with a very much better offer. First of all, I made it quite clear, if I had not made it quite clear before, that we would find the whole ioo per cent. of the fire brigade emergency appliances, one of the biggest items in the list of air-raid precautions. Secondly, we changed our offer of 50 per cent. to a graded offer of from 60 per cent. to 75 per cent., the grades depending upon the needs of the local authorities. When I say "the needs of the local authorities "I mean the needs as assessed in the block grant of the Ministry of Health.
It was suggested to us, and we considered very carefully the suggestion, whether we ought not to make the test that of vulnerability rather than of poverty. We considered that suggestion with an open mind, but inevitably we were driven to the conviction that 51 vulnerability is too uncertain and too varying a test, and that, on the whole—and I think this was confirmed by the views of some of the representatives of the local authorities—it was better to take the test already tried in the block grant system by the Ministry of Health, and to make it up to the more vulnerable authorities by the larger grants that are inevitable in the emergency appliances they will require. Further than that, we took note of the fact that in the more vulnerable areas there would be a much more comprehensive organisation of antiaircraft and searchlights. We therefore made this graded offer of 60 per cent. to 75 per cent. of the expenditure in which the local authorities had the responsibility, and we assessed it upon the poverty of the various localities.
Lastly, and perhaps most important of all, we noticed in the course of the discussions that many local authorities were particularly anxious about a future in which the scale of air-raid precautions might be greatly extended and in which the demand upon the rates, even with the high grants such as we contemplated, might go steadily up and up. We have taken the view that under the plans that we contemplate the average expenditure of the local authorities ought not to exceed a penny rate, and that in many cases it ought to be much below a penny rate; but it was clear to us that some of the local authorities were still anxious lest our estimate should prove to be wrong, and lest the call upon the rates should be much higher than we contemplate. Accordingly, I was authorised by the Government to give the undertaking that in the event of the rate exceeding rd. we would in all cases give the very high grant of 75 per cent. from Exchequer funds. That was our very fine offer, an offer which I thought would be received with a unanimous vote of thanks from the municipal authorities. Yet again, I was surprised and disappointed. Again the right hon. Gentleman said that he was not satisfied.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will make it perfectly clear that when I said that, I was not speaking for myself. I was speaking for the local authorities.
§ Sir S. Hoare
If I have said anything suggesting that that was not the case, let 52 me say at once that the right hon. Gentleman was speaking for the local authorities, and very effectively he was speaking for them. Again, speaking for the local authorities, the right hon. Gentleman said that they were not satisfied. Again, I went back to my colleagues to consult with them as to whether we could put still higher this very high offer that we had already made. Again, being very reasonable people and desiring almost at any cost to obtain the good-will of the local authorities, they authorised me to make a still further offer to the right hon. Gentleman and the local authorities whom he was representing. Accordingly, I offered to put up the grant to the local authorities in cases where the cost exceeded a penny rate, and to grade the offer at 75 per cent. in the case of the richer areas, and 85 per cent. in the case of the poorer areas.
Let the House observe what this offer really meant. It meant that the State was offering to undertake more than go per cent. of the total expenditure on air-raid precautions. There may be some hon. Members in the House—I expect there are several on the other side of the House—who will say to me, "Why if you went so far did you not go the whole way? Why boggle about the last 10 per cent. when you have undertaken the expenditure of go per cent. of these preparations?" My answer is a simple one. We went to the uttermost limit. If we had gone any further we should have removed altogether from this expensive field of public activity any check of economy at all. Many of my friends think we have gone too far. They point to the long history of grants to local authorities in which in actual practice it has been found that when grants have gone above a certain level almost inevitably it has led to extravagance.
§ Sir S. Hoare
It is easy to prove it over and over again. If I have to give a case in point let me quote the case of what is known as the Addison houses. I quote the case not to criticise Lord Addison or the Government of the day. I was a supporter of the Coalition of the time, and I take full responsibility for the support which other Members and myself gave to the Minister of Health at that time. I quote that case rather to show that when you get beyond a certain point there is no check of economy 53 on local authorities, and, perhaps more important than that, there is no check of economy of local industries. In the case of the Addison houses, as far as I remember the details, the State undertook to make good all expenditure over a rd. rate. What happened was this. Houses that before the War had cost£250 very soon cost£1,150. On the one hand, local authorities had no incentive to check the rise in prices as the Government must pay the bill, and, on the other hand, local industries could safely jump their prices up knowing that the locality was the only area in which a proper check could be put on local costs, the only area in which pressure could be brought to bear to employ the cheapest materials and the cheapest methods of building. There being no check of this kind, the cost of these houses bounded up, on the average, to£1,150. The Government were compelled to put an end to this very extravagant expenditure.
§ Mr. A. Jenkins
Will the right hon. Gentleman observe that the Government have accepted the principle of 100 per cent. in the control of the trunk roads recently, and the delegation to local authorities for carrying out certain repairs under the authority of the Government?
§ Sir S. Hoare
The hon. Member is correct in saying that these high grants are given in this case, but the two cases are riot at all comparable. In the case of the trunk roads the administration, I understand, is central, which makes all the difference. It comes to this: either there will be no local check of economy at all if you go beyond this high standard of rate, or, if you want to have a check of economy, the Government have to step in and administer these services themselves. I submit that there would be grave objections against the Government going into the areas of local authorities and starting for themselves a new branch of the fire brigade or new sanitary services. It is only necessary to state the alternative to show how impossible such a state of affairs would be. The Addison experiment shows the great danger of guaranteeing expenditure over a specified amount, and I am afraid I must say to the right hon. Gentleman opposite that the Government cannot raise this excess grant beyond the very high rate of 75 per cent. to 85 per cent. 54 which appears in the provisions of the Bill.
But what I can say to the House, and what I have said, as the right hon. Gentleman will remember, to the representatives of local authorities is this. We believe that our estimates are substantially correct, and that in actual practice the average expenditure will not go beyond a rd. rate. If our estimates are wrong, obviously a new situation will arise, and I told the representatives of the local authorities that this or any other Government would then have to meet the representatives of local authorities and reconsider the position. Secondly, during the course of our discussions I threw out the suggestion that if it was a reassurance to the local authorities, the Government were prepared to consider the possibility of putting a time limit on this Bill. We felt that as we were dealing with a new service of this kind in its early days, as there was a great deal of an experimental character in them, that probably in the course of time—three or four years' time—Parliament would wish to reconsider the whole position. I threw out the suggestion, and the right hon. Gentleman will remember that certain representatives of the local authorities approved it, and certain others were doubtful. I do not want to dogmatise either in favour of or against such a proposal, but if it is brought up in the course of our Committee discussions I undertake to listen to the discussions with an open mind and see what is the view of the House upon it.
Coming back to our offer, I have to say to the House that we have gone to the extreme limit, indeed, many people think that we have gone almost beyond the limit. I hope—I expressed the hope over and over again in our protracted discussions with the municipal authorities—that when the local authorities look further at the provisions of this Bill, when they look at the details in the scheme they will send in without further delay comprehensive schemes for theft localities—a great many have already sent in comprehensive schemes—I hope they will see that this is on the whole a very fair offer. The Government accept by far the major financial responsibilities and leave to the local authorities only just that amount of local expenditure which will provide some check of economy.
55 I have attempted to cover the main features of the schemes envisaged in the provisions of the Bill. I ask for the cooperation of local authorities, I ask no less for the co-operation of the householders of the country in making our plans effective. Between us we have to make impossible what, in my view, is the greatest danger to civilisation—the knock-out blow. We have so to organise the system of the country's defence as to make it impossible for any hostile Power in the course of a few days or weeks, or a few months, to launch in effect what is known as a knock-out blow. If we stop the knock-out blow, there is an opportunity for the forces of reason to make themselves felt in the world, and an opportunity for the resources of a great country or a great Empire to be fully mobilised. The Bill and the provisions it includes are directed against a knock-out blow. I urge upon the House the great urgency of this problem. I urge upon the country the great need for the fullest co-operation between all citizens, and I end with the hope, a very deep and sincere hope, that while to-day in this troubled world it is necessary to ask Parliament to pass quickly the provisions of this Measure, we shall see the time, and it may not be far distant, when a Home Secretary will come to the House and be able to say that, owing to the world having once again regained its sanity, the time has come to repeal the provisions of the Bill on the ground that they are no longer necessary.
§ 4.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Herbert Morrison
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:this House, whilst conscious of the regrettable necessity for taking measures to protect life and property in the event of air raids, cannot assent to the Second Reading of a Bill which does not provide for the cost involved being made a national charge.I want, first of all, to deal with the position of local authorities in these negotiations, and when I have completed my statement on that aspect of the matter I will deal with the Amendment and the Bill which is now before the House. The right hon. Gentleman has admittedly had a dreary task in describing the necessity for the Bill. Let me state as impartially and as fairly as I can the views which local authorities have held throughout the 56 negotiations, views which they affirmed at the time of the breakdown of the negotiations with the Home Secretary. We all regretted that breakdown, for I think it will be agreed by the right hon. Gentleman that every one of us was anxious that the negotiations should be brought to a successful conclusion and that we should be able to tell the House and the country that, as far as the local authorities were concerned, there was left no major disagreement on the Bill. I believe the right hon. Gentleman will agree that the local authorities carried on the discussions with courtesy, fairness and no political bias or prejudice.
§ Sir S. Hoare indicated assent.
§ Mr. Morrison
The right hon. Gentleman assents to that statement. Let me, for my part, say that the right hon. Gentleman, in putting his case to the local authorities, treated them with every courtesy and consideration. This matter has been under consideration for a long time. The right hon. Gentleman has not been Home Secretary for very long, and I agree that since he has held that office, he has acted with speed; but I submit that it really is not the fault of the local authorities that the discussions have lasted for so long. Any suggestion to the contrary would be unfair to the local authorities, for once they were brought into full negotiation with the right hon. Gentleman, they acted quickly, and met his convenience at every point with promptness. However, for a considerable time there was unwillingness on the part of the Government to come down to brass tacks on the financial considerations which, I think hon. Members in all parts of the House will agree, were legitimately and properly a matter of very great concern to local authorities of all types and under the control of all sorts of political parties.
The first circular in connection with this matter was sent to the local authorities by the previous Secretary of State, on 9th July, 1935. Curiously enough, although that circular indicated the sort of work which the Government wished the local authorities to undertake, it made no reference to finance beyond a statement that certain items of material would be supplied by the Government. I think it will be generally agreed, whatever hon. Members may think about the situation as it is now, that it was an unfortunate 57 loss of time and—I do not wish to use any offensive term, in this part of my speech, at any rate—a totally unreal approach to the problem to ask the local authorities to take action which would involve them in considerable capital and maintenance expenditure without mentioning the financial aspects of the problem as far as they were concerned. Unanimously the associations of local authorities and the London County Council, without any consultation between themselves, at once said that they could not act upon the basis of no financial agreement, and that before they entered into substantial commitments they must have a financial agreement with the Government. At that point they requested that the State should bear the full cost of air-raid precautions, a request which has never been withdrawn. It is important for the House to remember that that happened as long ago as December, 1935.
Notwithstanding the fact that the local authorities promptly made their position known to the Government, nothing happened as far as the last Secretary of State was concerned. A deputation was received from the Association of Municipal Corporations, but nothing resulted from it. The whole financial question was permitted to drift until the right hon. Gentleman the present Home Secretary came into office, when, I quite agree, he took prompt action and things began to move with speed. I beg hon. Members to believe me when I say that the whole of the delay under the last Secretary of State was in no way caused by the local authorities. They were ready to have discussions and to seek, and if possible arrive at, an agreement, but to be frank, the last Secretary of State did not act, and it was not until the right hon. Gentleman came into office that things began to move. I think I am entitled to state that, not by way of political controversy with the late Secretary of State, but by way of defending the local authorities, since it has been stated that the whole blame for the delay lies at their door.
In February, 1937, the Home Office issued a further memorandum dealing particularly with the fire brigade emergency organisation, and from that it became apparent that the local authorities would be involved in very substantial capital and revenue expenditure; but even 58 then, there was nothing concrete, nothing definite, about the financial arrangements. All that the memorandum said with regard to the fire brigade emergency organisation was that the Government would offer substantial assistance towards the cost of the new appliances required, and there were certain offers of unit grants in respect of every man trained and equipped. But again, the situation was left vague and all the local authorities—I ask the House to realise that I am not referring to local authorities of any particular political colour, and that the great bulk of them are not of my political colour—agreed that they could not act upon the vague financial basis contained in that memorandum.
§ Mr. Morrison
February, 1937. It went further, but it was still nowhere near precise as to the financial relationship between the State and the local authorities. At a later date—I think in March—the associations of local authorities unanimously informed the Secretary of State that they had reluctantly decided to recommend their constituent authorities not to incur further capital expenditure on air-raid precautions until the Government had made plain their financial intentions. The local authorities really could do nothing else, either in justice to their ratepayers or in justice to their financial stability and financial control.
§ Mr. Churchill
For the information of the House, was there no communication made to the local authorities by the Government between the circular of 9th July, 1935, and the fire brigade memorandum in February 1937?
§ Mr. Morrison
My records are that there was no circular and no communication on these essential financial matters officially sent by the Government to the local authorities. The letter containing that decision by the local authorities was sent to the Government on 22nd March, 1937. I can assure the House in all sincerity that the local authorities were in no way animated by any desire to embarrass, obstruct or make difficulties for the Government. On the contrary, I think it may be said that, substantially speaking, the local authorities unanimously recognised that they had duties in this matter and must co-operate 59 with the Government, provided there was a reasonable financial settlement. It was not until 19th July, 1937—that is to say, on the edge of the summer holidays, and more than two years after they had first asked the local authorities to deal with air-raid precautions—that the Government called the local authorities to a conference at the Home Office in order that they might hear the Government's proposals for meeting the cost of the measures. Not until July of this year were the local authorities called into negotiation with the Minister on that point. That was not the fault of the local authorities. They had been at the disposal of Ministers the whole of that time, and would never have dreamed of refusing to meet Ministers and discuss in a friendly way the difficulties that existed. But during the whole of those two years they were not asked to do so; it was only in July, 1937, that they were asked to do so.
Notwithstanding that the notice was short, a matter about which there was no complaint, for the right hon. Gentleman had moved promptly, the local authorities quickly made arrangements to meet him. The right hon. Gentleman has agreed this afternoon that the discussions were not carried on in any spirit of political unfriendliness and that the local authorities did not in the smallest way obstruct the discussions being carried on expeditiously right to the point at which they reluctantly disagreed and the negotiations broke down. In July the proposal was that the State should meet the cost of certain things to be provided in kind, certain chemicals, and gas masks, and the Government asked the local authorities to bear 50 per cent. of the other costs. As far as facts are concerned, the hight hon. Gentleman has correctly described the further discussions that took place, and I quite agree with him that substantial concessions were given to the local authorities by the Government.
It was with very great regret that the local authorities were unable to agree with the Government. We had to negotiate with all the ability that we had. We endeavoured to make the very best bargain that we could for our ratepayers, as we were entitled to do; and the right hon. Gentleman endeavoured to make the best bargain that he could for the Treasury, 60 as he was entitled to do. Surely, no hon. Member blames the local authorities, for whom I acted as spokesman, for trying to make the best bargain they could for their ratepayers, any more than we blame the right hon. Gentleman for making the best bargain he could for the Treasury. Rates do matter. [Interruption.] I am surprised that that should be news to hon. Gentlemen. Throughout my municipal life, I have never held to anything else, and I have always been particularly careful to teach my municipal colleagues in London that rates are important.
Every local authority has to safeguard and reasonably protect the interests of its ratepayers in relations with the State, just as there are corresponding needs and interests on the other side. There has been no unpleasant or undignified wrangle. All the discussions have been carried on with dignity, friendliness and I think I may say without loss of temper at any moment either by the Secretary of State or by the local authorities and those who spoke for them. What was the case of the local authorities? This is a new duty and a new service which the State proposes should be put upon them. We recognise fully that the State cannot be expected to administer directly all the services nationally. Nevertheless, the local authorities take the view, which I think is a tenable one, that although the service of air-road precautions is not actually an integral part of National Defence, it is absolutely interlocked with National Defence, so that it is proper that the expenditure should fall upon national funds in the same way as the costs of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force do.
Moreover, the local authorities have had experience of the starting of new services. They have seen services started with the information from the Government, "This will not cost you more than a halfpenny or a penny rate, as the case may be." This is a point which ought to appeal to hon. Members opposite. The local authorities have even seen this House put a statutory limitation on the amount which they could spend on a particular service. They have then seen that service develop to such a point, and the expenditure upon it become so much more than the House of Commons ever anticipated, that I doubt whether, if the House had foreseen the development they would have permitted the service to come into existence at all. Therefore, I hold 61 that in this matter the local authorities acted not unreasonably.
The Secretary of State may genuinely believe, and I am sure he does, that the cost of this service will not exceed a penny rate. Nevertheless, the local authorities are apprehensive lest, under pressure from the Home Office itself, from the House of Commons and from public opinion, the service may in time greatly exceed that cost. If that should happen, where shall we be? We shall find air-raid precautions as an issue, thrown into the municipal elections, almost as much as if the local authorities were responsible for Defence policy and foreign policy, and goodness knows what else besides. If the burden on the municipalities gets beyond a certain point, many of them, it may be the great bulk of them, may have to consider reducing expenditure on social services, because of this new duty which has been brought to them and which can be imposed upon them, under this Bill, by the Secretary of State. That is a perfectly legitimate and genuine apprehension on the part of the local authorities.
Then it is argued that the State under this scheme is to bear go per cent. of the expenditure. That argument has been used in the Press and has often been mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman, and it annoys the local authorities. It is an argument which brings into the field of municipal expenditure the whole direct capital expenditure incurred by the State for the needs of the State. Is it right to argue that the fire brigade appliances which the State is going to buy and hand over to the local authorities for safe keeping, because it is convenient to do so; the respirators which the State is going to buy and store; the hose, the equipment, the chemicals and all these other things should be put into the general bulk and that the right hon. Gentleman should take credit for all this expenditure as if it were municipal expenditure on a municipal function? If he only put the Army, the Navy and the Air Force in as well, his figure would not be go per cent., but something like 99.99 per cent. I wonder he has not done it, because it is such a tempting argument. When local authorities talk about State action and the percentage of the State grant they always mean, and the House knows that they always mean, and the House itself has 62 always meant, the proportion of locally administered expenditure borne by the State as compared with the proportion borne by the local authority. Therefore, not only is the go per cent. argument untrue, but it is one which thoroughly annoys local authority representatives whatever their politics, and it has done more harm than good as regards the local authorities.
Then, it is said that the local authorities for this purpose have been divided into four classes. That is always a good thing to do when you are treating with the local authorities—to divide them if you can into 40 different classes. "Divide and conquer" has always been the doctrine of national Governments in Great Britain. Who knows that one may not have to use it oneself some day? When the right hon. Gentleman came along with proposals as to 75 per cent. and 85 per cent., we realised the technique that was in operation. We knew it perfectly well. The idea was to seduce some authorities and leave the others high and dry—an array divided in the face of the right hon. Gentleman. Fortunately, British local government did not give way on that point. The ranks were closed and we retained our solidarity.
How has this classification been made? It is based upon the block grant. I admit that the right hon. Gentleman—and this must be his defence—wanted to find a classification which would enable him to give some local authorities more than others within the penny rate. He wanted to give some ho per cent., some 65 per cent., some 70 per cent., some 75 per cent. The right hon. Gentleman asked, "Where can I find a rough classification?" and the Treasury, I assume, said, "Sir, we have that absolutely ready for you. You have only to fall back on the dear old block grant, which has served us in many a crisis and got us through many a difficulty." I admire the Treasury. I do not always agree with them, but I do respect them. There are some brains in that department, and even annoying brains I like better than no brains at all. Let us look at the ingredients of the block grant and see what relation they have to air-raid precautions. I give a rough description of it. It is based on the number of registered unemployed in relation to population; the number of miles of highway, I think also in relation to population; the number of 63 children under five in relation to population and finally the rateable value per head of the population.
May I assure the right hon. Gentleman with all solemnity that if and when an enemy comes with his aeroplanes to bomb Great Britain he will not make any inquiries about the ingredients of the block grant? Really, although I appreciate the difficulty of the right hon. Gentleman and the fact he had to find something to go on and that the Treasury probably said, "This is not much good, but it is the only thing we have," I am bound to say that like "the flowers that bloom in the Spring" it has "nothing to do with the case." What the enemy will be concerned about is the question of vulnerability—of what can be hit. I rather imagine that the capital city will get its share. Certain East Coast towns will get their share. Little urban and rural districts where a penny rate produces perhaps a it oo year, and which happen to have munitions centres within their borders, or to be situated in positions of military and strategical importance, are just as likely to get it as areas such as Glamorgan or Durham where the block grant is considered by the State in relation to the factors I have mentioned. Therefore, as I say, it has nothing to do with the case, even though it may be a convenient method.
The local authorities argued for 100 per cent. We did not get it. We thought we ought to get it. We still think that on the merits of the case we ought to get it. But compromise is deeply ingrained in the British character, and we were genuinely anxious to reach a settlement if we could. Accordingly we said to the right hon. Gentleman, "We think for the reasons we have indicated that this ought to be a moo per cent. job, but we are willing to make a compromise. We would like to have a settlement and to be able to leave the Home Office and to say that the fight is off. You tell us that this service will not cost us more than a Id. rate. All right, you back your own belief and guarantee us any expenditure over the id. rate." But the right hon. Gentleman, apparently, was not so sure as all that about the rd. rate limit, and he would not give us the guarantee. He had assured us that there would be no expenditure over the id. 64 rate, at any rate on the average, but he declined to guarantee us against any expenditure over that point. Then we went further. I am amazed at my own modesty when I look back upon these protracted negotiations—and I wish I had never been in them, because they took up a lot of my time in which I could have been doing something else. We said we would double the figure of the id. rate and give the right hon. Gentleman an additional 100 per cent. margin. We asked him to guarantee us any expenditure over a 2d. rate. Did he say, "Yes"? No, he would not say "yes" to that proposition either. In those circumstances, with great respect I put it to the House, who was reasonable and who was not in this case? Is it not obvious?
The local authorities finally said that while we adhered to our 100 per cent. belief and reserved the right to fall back upon it, yet if the Secretary of State would give us a guarantee over the 2d. rate, we would cry quits. I believe that I would be right in saying on behalf of the local authorities to-day—and in this respect I speak only for the local authorities—that even now or to-morrow they would accept such a guarantee if offered by the Government. I ask the Government, therefore, whether they will not make some statement on this point, either on the Amendment to the Financial Resolution which has been put in by the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) or on the Amendment which we have put down to the Bill? That has been done so that both issues, that is, the 2d. rate issue and the 100 per cent. issue, can be voted upon by the House. I make a special appeal to the Prime Minister as one who has had great experience of local government. If the Government will, even now, say that they will guarantee expenditure over 2d. rate, then, speaking for the local authorities, and for the local authorities alone, and not as a Member of the Opposition Front Bench, I believe the local authorities would say, "We accept that offer and the dispute is off as far as we are concerned."
I hope very much that between now and to-morrow afternoon His Majesty's Government may be able to give favourable consideration to that proposition, because I want the local authorities to start 65 on this business with the most complete good-will. They have never said that they are going to obstruct this Bill, and they do not say so now. They have never said that they are going to put sand in the machinery and obstruct the administration for which the right hon. Gentleman is responsible. They do not say so now, and I do not say so now and I would not say it, because it would not be right. But I do say that it is worth a lot to the Government and to the right hon. Gentle—man that the administration of this service should start with good-will and good feeling on both sides. Particularly is it important that it should start with the local authorities feeling that they are not going to be run into unlimited expenditure. It is true that over the id. rate expenditure some authorities get 75 per cent. and some get 85 per cent. But what remains might work out to a very big figure indeed, and the local authorities apprehend that it might involve expenditure representing several pence in the pound.
I have tried to state the case of the local authorities with all fairness, and in a way which would be acceptable to all associations of local authorities as well as the London County Council. I have tried to do so without introducing any political considerations whatever, both here and in the discussions which we had with the right hon. Gentleman, and I now wish to deal with the Opposition's official Amendment.
§ Mr. Simmonds
Before the right hon. Gentleman proceeds would he make this clear to the House? Are we to understand that this question of the limitation to a 2d. rate was the sole point between his friends and the Secretary of State?
§ Mr. Morrison
It is the sole issue outstanding between the local authorities and the Secretary of State.
§ Mr. Morrison
I have to be very careful. I think I have spoken quite fairly for the local authorities, and I am anxious to make it clear to the House when I am speaking for them and when I am speaking for the official Opposition with which it would not be right to involve the local authorities. I now propose to state the view taken by the Opposition, which happens to coincide with the original view of 66 the local authorities—the view which, in principle, the local authorities retain, although they were willing and remain willing to treat on the basis I have indicated. This is a service which is outside the field of normal local government. Indeed, when the present Chancellor of the Exchequer issued his original circular, I, at some political risk, at once took responsibility for saying that the local authorities must co-operate with the State. There was some controversy about it, but I did that straight away, notwithstanding the risk of controversy that was involved. I did say at once that the local authorities should co-operate on the basis that the State would find all additional expenditure and that the services would be related to the normal functions of local government, and on that basis our people agreed in principle to co-operation. It is related to national defence inevitably, and it must have interlocking working, certainly with the Royal Air Force, and probably with other armed Forces of the Crown.
There is no more reason for the local authorities bearing a proportion of the charge themselves than there is for bearing a proportion of the charge for the Territorial Army, and it must be remembered that I believe every county council and county borough council in the country is actually represented on the local associations of the Territorial Army, but we have never been asked to bear a proportion of the expenses of the Territorial Army, and we feel that we ought not to be asked to bear this. In the Bill, for example, there is a provision that: the local authorities are to have power to build air-raid shelters. That is a new item that did not crop up, I think, in the discussions as a decision of the Government, but is there any Member of this House who will say that the provision of air-raid shelters is a function of local government? It is a totally new departure.
§ Mr. Morrison
It has no relationship to the existing functions of a local authority, and if it were considered to be administratively practicable, which, indeed, it is, it would be right that the whole of the bomb-proof shelters should be provided directly by the State itself. Moreover, the Secretary of State can require expenditure from the local authorities, he can send their schemes back, he can alter them, 67 he can impose additional expenditure upon them. There is this point also, that if you want clean-cut, quick, decisive administration, is it not right that the State should pay the lot? Instead of the local authorities being bodies that can argue as to how much money they are going to spend—and, of course, they are bound to argue when the State imposes expenditure on them—is it not better, as a matter of clean-cut, swift administration that the State should bear the whole cost, make the local authorities agents, and put us in the position, in which we are willing to be put, namely, that we must do what the State tells us to do? I would not use this argument as regards any normal local government service. I do not disguise the fact that, in relation to normal local government services, I would not like 100 per cent. grants as a Minister, and I would not like them as a local authority either, because I want to preserve a proper autonomy and freedom of decision to the local authorities, but this is a matter on which the local authorities do not want autonomy, and I venture to say to this House that it is a matter upon which they ought not to have autonomy, but in which they ought to act as the instruments and agents of the State.
There are analogies for this. There are precedents. When the Birmingham Corporation collects the Road Fund licences on behalf of the Minister of Transport, the Minister bears the whole of the administrative costs of the Corporation in so doing. With the London County Council and every other county and county borough as well, the administrative costs are borne by the State, the local authorities acting as agents. Secondly, my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Jenkins) has mentioned the case of the trunk roads, where the local authorities will reconstruct and maintain trunk highways as agents of the Minister of Transport and the Minister will bear the whole cost; and in the Midwives Act of last year the block grant was so adjusted that the grants will range between 20 and 80 per cent. Therefore, we are not asking for something that is unprecedented.
We ask the House to support this Amendment which I am moving, and if it fails to support this Amendment—it will be an Amendment that will be voted upon in accordance with the interests of the 68 ratepayers one way or the other—we will, at any rate, ask the House to support the Amendment which will be moved to the Financial Resolution. It is bound to be an Amendment difficult in its drafting and in saying quite what it means, but we ask that the House will then support that Amendment, indicating that the local authorities are to have the 2d. guarantee. Finally, may I say one or two words about the wider considerations of this Bill?
§ Mr. Michael Beaumont
Could the right hon. Gentleman make clear what the analogy was with the Midwives Act? He spoke about 80 and 20 per cent., but I did not quite see the analogy.
§ Mr. Morrison
It is not absolute. London took an interest in that case. Poor old London always gets the worst of it on State grants, and I shall have something to say about that in London at the General Election, though not now, but we were interested in it, and we were advised, I think, by the Ministry of Health—I do not think the Parliamentary Secretary would dispute it, although he was not there at the time—that the amount of additional money out of the block grant in relation to the midwives service would in effect be equivalent to a grant of between 20 per cent. in the case of London and 80 per cent. in the case of the poorer counties. I am only quoting it as a case where the State grant has got to a very high point, though not to 100 per cent.
I am sure that my hon. Friends would wish me to say that we deplore the necessity for the House having to consider this Bill at all. It is a terrific commentary on the state of the world, and it is not exactly a testimonial to six years of National Government's foreign policy that this should be necessary. It was thought by some Socialists in the country when the Chancellor of the Exchequer's circular went out, when he was Home Secretary, that this was propaganda with a view to making the nation reconciled to war and with a view to making it war-minded. I could never accept that point of view. The more I have read the official circulars, the more I have listened to the right hon. Gentleman and his predecessor making speeches about it, the more my whole mind and soul have been filled with indignation that we should have to contemplate this beastly business 69 for the protection of the British people and British homes. We agree that in the existing state of the world this is a Bill which is necessary and a Bill dealing with a subject about which things must be done, but we cannot refrain from saying that had the foreign policy of His Majesty's Government been more decisive, more clear-cut, more courageous in mobilising and leading the world in the direction of peace, this horrible thing that we are now actively contemplating might not have been necessary to contemplate at all.
Moreover, we are not sure whether the Government even now know quite what they are doing about this business, whether they are adequately advised, and whether they are going to do the job efficiently or not. Frankly, we are very very doubtful about it, and from my own experience I am bound to say that I am not convinced. But the necessity before us is a horrible necessity, which I agree we must face when we have got to this pass, when it is a fact that when the London County Council required the contractors for Waterloo Bridge to take out an insurance policy against the risks of war, they came back to us and said they could not effect the insurance. That is where we have got, and I cannot see the force of all these Government boasts about getting the country out of trouble and maintaining peace. I cannot see it. It seems to me that step by step, stage by stage, we are drifting into the most horrible and dreadful war in human history.
Furthermore, Ministers will not say the same thing. Air warfare is deplored in speeches that are made, quite rightly. It is the most horrible form of warfare perhaps yet invented, excepting poison gases, which are a form of torture which brilliant minds have invented. It is all very well to deplore air warfare and the bombing of the civil population, but I wish the Government had been a little more active at the Disarmament Conference in securing an agreement that air warfare should cease. We cannot forget that in 1932, at the Disarmament Conference, Lord Londonderry declared, in their Lordships' House, on his return, regarding the possibility of the total abolition of air forces, or at least the abolition of the artillery of the air, which is the distinctive arm of the Air Force 70 and to which it owes its separate existence:I had the utmost difficulty at that time, amidst the public outcry, to preserve the use of the bombing aeroplane, even on the frontiers of the Middle East and India.It was a pitiable statement. It would have been a good thing for the world if the world had agreed then to finish this business altogether. It is not without significance that when Mr. Baldwin was Prime Minister, the Londonderry receptions stopped for a time. It is not without significance that now that the new Prime Minister is in office—and I am glad the right hon. Gentleman is in front of me at the present moment and I do not have to preface my remarks by saying how sorry I am that he is not well and is not able to be here—those receptions are resumed, and not only that, but Lord Londonderry becomes President of the National Union of Conservative and Unionist Associations, Honour has been done to the man who said that, and that it is significant as the mental outlook of the new Prime Minister, which I say is a thoroughly bad outlook. But do not think I am complaining. I say again that, politically, this Prime Minister suits us down to the ground, and that is more than I could say about his predecessor.
But we do not get the same story. The Secretary of State has told us to-day, "Don't you believe that the bomber will get through; we will see that he won't." Conservative Ministers cannot tell the same story for five minutes on end, and it is most important that Ministers should try to say the same thing and thereby follow the example of the Opposition. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh !"] Let hon. Members realise how we have been saying the same thing right the way through these King's Speech Debates. They cannot say that we have not stuck to our guns. What did the late Prime Minister say? I know that the late Prime and the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary did not always get on. There was some apparent disagreement at one time, as a result of which the right hon. Gentleman had to resign and go back again to the back benches for a month or two to do penance, and until he had done penance, he could not come back. He says the bomber will not get through, but what did Mr. Baldwin say? [An HON. MEMBER: "What date?"] On 10th November, 1932. [Laughter.] Well, have 71 the activities of the Minister for the Coordination of Defence so changed the position that the whole military situation has changed since then? Let Members recall the speeches of the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence. Have they looked at him lately? Do they believe for a moment that he has achieved this wonderful military revolution in these few years? No, Sir. Mr. Baldwin said:I think it is well also for the man in the street to realise that there is no power on earth that can protect him from being bombed. Whatever people may tell him, the bomber will always get through, and it is very easy to understand that, if you realise the area of space.He went on to say:The only defence is in offence, which means that you have to kill more women and children more quickly than the enemy if you want to save yourselves."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th November, 1932 col. 632, Vol. 270.]We are told this afternoon by the Secretary of State that Mr. Baldwin was wrong and that he himself is right. Perhaps the Prime Minister will act as arbitrator between them.
This is a regretted Bill, but it is a necessary Bill. We recognise that fact and we shall approach the matter in that spirit and in that way. I have endeavoured to put our point of view on the matter and the point of view of the local authorities. For the reasons that I have indicated in the course of my remarks I commend this Amendment to the sympathetic consideration of the House.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Sandys
I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend's Air-raid Precautions Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) made probably one of the ablest speeches that we have listened to in this House but it does not alter my opinion as to the merits of the Bill. The Bill is the first legislative recognition of a new branch of national defence, namely, the passive defence of the civilian population. That is something which has come to stay. As far as we can see, air-raid precautions are likely to become a permanent part of our defence system. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will forgive me; I think perhaps in his heart he will agree with me when I say that this is a sadly belated Measure. The only serious criticism which one can advance against 72 this Bill is that it ought to have been introduced three, possibly four years ago. The work would now be completed and our people would be secure. Instead of which we are still only at the beginning.
Except for certain details, which are better left to the Committee stage, I am in complete agreement with the general provisions of the Bill. The Bill is mainly concerned with the financing of air-raid precautions. Its principles are, in my opinion, entirely sound. Air-raid precautions are a part of national defence. Wars and the dangers of wars are the responsibility and the concern of the central Government. It is therefore right and just that the Exchequer should bear the lion's share of the cost. On the other hand, as my right hon. Friend has explained, it is in the very nature of these schemes that the local authorities must have the spending of a large proportion of this public money. It is therefore most necessary and expedient that they should have a direct financial interest in the wise and economical expenditure of that money.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney referred in some detail to the question whether the cost to the local authorities would exceed the equivalent of a 2d. rate. But in his reasoned Amendment to reject the Bill he asks for 100 per cent. grant from the Exchequer to cover all the expenditure of the local authorities. On this question a very important assurance was given in his speech by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. He said that he had, in the course of the negotiations, assured the local authorities that if the expenditure which they had to incur should rise above the Government's estimates, which was a id. rate, he was prepared to consult with them again and to reconsider the position. If that is so, I am wondering whether in the Committee stage it would not be possible to incorporate that most important assurance in the Bill. It would, I think, go a very long way towards meeting the point of view of the local authorities.
The Bill will provide the Government with the financial means to carry out their plan. But I think we should like to know something more about certain aspects of those plans. We have had a good deal of information about gas-masks, and I would like to congratulate 73 my right hon. Friend and the Under-Secretary of State, who has taken a particular interest in this question, upon the very great progress that has been made in the manufacture of gas-masks. That is probably the most satisfactory aspect of the whole question. On the subject of shelters, I think hon. Members would like to have more information than has yet been given. The only authoritative statement that we have had from the Government on the question of shelters was made by my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence last January. Speaking on the Government's policy respecting shelters, the right hon. Gentleman said:For a 500 lbs. semi-armour piercing bomb 20 ft. to 25 ft. of concrete and a certain amount of earth are necessary to keep it out, and anybody can see that it is impossible to erect buildings for the protection of persons on that scale. The real answer is that we shall have our adequate defences available to prevent the oncoming aeroplane ever being in a position to drop its bombs."—[OFFICIAL RETORT, 27th January, 1937; col. 1007, Vol. 319.]I wish I could share the optimism of my right hon. Friend. If the bomber is not ever going to get through why are we contemplating something in the neighbourhood of 30,000,000 on air-raid precautions? It is evident that the remarks of the Home Secretary this afternoon were based on the assumption that raiding aeroplanes are going to drop armour-piercing or semi-armour-piercing bombs. But are they? That is a point which deserves more consideration. If they are the Government are right in arguing that it will be so difficult and so expensive to provide shelters that it is not worth attempting it at all. It is worth bearing in mind that the French and German Governments do not take that view. They do not expect the majority of bombs dropped to be either armour-piercing or semi-armour-piercing. The French Government are building shelters with only 6 ft. to 7 ft. of concrete. They consider that this will be sufficient protection against all except armour-piercing bombs. The Germans have thought it sufficient to lay down that new buildings should have thick concrete floors. Old buildings have been strengthened with girders. Every house has its prepared cellar. The German Government reckon that by this arrangement over 90 per cent. of the population will be protected. Those calculations are 74 based upon practical experiments made with bombs dropped upon houses. In view of the wide divergence of opinion on this question between the British Government and the French and German Governments—
§ Sir S. Hoare
May I interrupt my hon. Friend? There is not any divergence of opinion. I was speaking about direct hits by high explosive bombs.
§ Sir S. Hoare
I was speaking of shelters for every kind of bomb except the direct hit by a high explosive bomb. No country in Europe is attempting to deal with that.
§ Mr. Sandys
With all due deference to my right hon. Friend who has expert advice, I would suggest that it makes all the difference whether the bombs are armour-piercing or non-armour-piercing. I suggest that the Government should consider whether it is not feasible to provide protection against a high explosive non-armour-piercing bomb which, I understand, is being done in other countries. Then there is the question of building construction. Factories, flats and office buildings are going up every day without any regard for air-raid dangers. Not only are no shelters provided, but many of them have not even any access to the roof, which would be essential, in the event of an incendiary bomb being dropped on them. What are the Home Office doing upon this question of building construction? Over a year ago we were promised a handbook on structural precautions. When is the handbook to be issued?
Again there is the question of evacuation. There will have to be some measure of evacuation in certain areas. The only question is whether that evacuation is to be organised or disorganised. I am sure that hon. Members would like further information on that point. A 75 question was asked in the House only last week on this subject. In a supplementary question, the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones) asked:Is it a fact that the Government have as yet no plan or policy in regard to the evacuation of crowded areas in case of emergency, particularly in view of the fact that the organisation of a plan would take a long time?My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State replied:That assumption is not correct.I am very glad. That means that the Government have a plan and a policy on this matter. I think the House would like to know further details about it. I myself asked a further supplementary question, which was:Have the local authorities been invited to co-operate in the preparation of plans of this kind?The Under-Secretary replied:This matter will certainly come into their schemes."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th November, 1937; C01. 1832. Vol. 328.]If that is so, I would like to ask which local authorities have been requested to prepare schemes for evacuation and also why there is no reference to the subject of evacuation in the explanatory Memorandum to the Bill. It seems to me that it should have been included in the list of items which local authorities would have to consider in their schemes.
Then there is the question of guidance to manufacturers of anti-air-raid equipment. Manufacturers are groping very much in the dark. What steps are the Government taking to give them more direct and specific assistance in the manufacture of air-raid equipment? Then again there is the important question of publicity. One of the purposes of air raids is to create panic among the civilian population. The purpose of air-raid precautions is to avert and avoid that panic. It is the unexpected which frightens, and I submit that there is no surer way of preventing panic than to familiarise the public with what they may expect and what they will have to do. A householder's handbook was promised some little while ago. The Under-Secretary assured us that:A handbook on the precautionary measures which members of the public should take in the event of air raids is in 76 an advanced state of preparation. "—OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th June, 1936; col. 1154, Vol. 313.]That was on the 18th June, 1936. I want to ask my hon. Friend when that handbook is going to be issued. There is an insistent demand for it from all over the country, by air-raid precautions officers and organisers as well as by the general public. We really cannot get on with interesting the public in air-raid precautions until that handbook is issued. In addition, I would suggest that the Air-Raid Precautions Department should have a highly efficient and enterprising publicity department, which would take advantage of the cinema, the Press, posters, and other means of publicity, in order to make the nature of the problem and their individual responsibilities known to the public.
Again there is the question of protecting the essential services. What is being done to safeguard supplies of gas, electricity and water? There is also the question of doctors. Many of them have already gone through a course of study on the treatment of gas cases but what is being done to form them into panels, or to let them know where and how their services will be required in the case of emergency? Lastly, there is the question of microbe warfare. We all of us, I know, trust that this crime against civilisation will never be committed; nevertheless, I think we should like to be assured that the Government are all the same studying this horrible question. These and many other problems with which I have not the time to deal are involved in this vast question of air-raid precautions. Much valuable work has already been done, but on the whole I think it can be said that with the passing of this Bill the real work of planning, organisation, recruitment and training will only be beginning. Other countries, like Germany, Italy, France and Russia have been perfecting their preparations for many years. The Germans started their preparations four years before we did. We in this country have as yet set up only two air-raid precautions training schools; in Germany there are 3,000. We have 1,200 qualified instructors; the Germans have 25,000. The German unit for organisation purposes is the individual house; we are only attempting to organise by streets. We have appealed for 300,000 street wardens, of which of course only a negligible fraction 77 have as yet volunteered. As against that the Germans have already enrolled between 2,000,000 and 3,000,000 house wardens. We are contemplating spending some£30,000,000 in the next three or four years. The Germans have already spent well over£400,000,000 on air-raid precautions. I mention these figures not to criticise what the Government have done or have not done. Nor do I wish to depress or alarm anyone. mention them merely in order to emphasise the immensity of the task which still lies before us. In the Explanatory Memorandum there is a mention of three or four years as the period which it is expected the organisation of air-raid precautions will take. I do not think we are safe in taking for granted that we have necessarily got three or four years in which to make these preparations. Personally I take the view that if we can get over the next three or four years then it may well be that these air-raid precautions will not be necessary at all. It is those years which are the dangerous years, and that is why, in conclusion, I am going to make two proposals for the speeding up of this work.
The first deals with the status of the Air-Raid Precautions Department. It seems to me that the work and responsibilities have grown too big for the present Air-Raid Precautions Department as it is now constituted. This is too important a question to be dealt with merely by a department of a department. I am not suggesting that there should be a new Ministry, or a new Minister appointed, or that air-raid precautions should be taken away from the responsibility of the Home Secretary. What I am recommending, however, is that the Air-Raid Precautions Department should be greatly enlarged, and its personnel increased, and that it should be given more independence, and more authority; in fact, that its status should be raised. Our first task is to impress the public with the importance of air-raid precautions, and there could be no better way than to give the Air-Raid Precautions Department status, position and authority commensurate with its great responsibilities. One thing is certain. So long as air-raid precautions remain the Cinderella of defence the public will, as I am afraid they do now, continue to regard air-raid precautions as a remote question with which they are not directly concerned.
78 The second point concerns who should be in charge of this Department. During the next two years, at any rate, an intense effort will be required. Success is going to depend upon leadership, energy and impetus from the top. I submit to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that he has too many other duties to devote the necessary time and personal attention to this question, at any rate during the initial period of organisation. Before I came to the House this afternoon I looked up what were the duties of the Home Secretary, and I was amazed at the number of things for which he is responsible. Apart from his Cabinet duties, the Home Secretary is responsible for the City and Metropolitan Police, prisons, Borstal Institutions, industrial and reformatory schools, probation, the administration of justice in criminal cases, the appointment of certain judges and magistrates, the direction of prosecutions, coroners, extraditions, naturalisations, the presentation of addresses and petitions to the King, advice to the King on the exercise of his prerogative powers, instructions to officers of the Crown, Lords lieutenant, Governors of Colonies and magistrates, communications between the King and the Church, the appointment of Royal Commissions, industrial laws, Factory Acts, Shop Acts, Truck Acts, the employment of children, workmen's compensation, public safely, explosives, firearms, fires, mines, quarries, picture theatres, Parliamentary elections, local elections, public morals, public amenities, intoxicating liquors, drugs, obscene literature, the Channel Islands, vivisection, open spaces, betting, lotteries, exhumations, cremations, the white slave traffic, aliens and wild birds.
Some of these duties are onerous. Others are less onerous. But at any rate it would seem clear that he cannot give more than a small proportion of his time to the study of questions connected with air-raid precautions. Therefore, what I am suggesting to my right hon. Friend is that during this important initial period he should entrust this work to a responsible deputy. I am suggesting that he should appoint a director-general of air-raid precautions, to take charge of an enlarged and reconstructed department. The director-general would be in close touch with the Home Secretary and would be under his ultimate control. On the other hand, he would have a very free hand 79 and wide authority. Exceptional qualifications would be required for a post of this kind. In fact, I think we should need a national figure, somebody outside politics, somebody, I would suggest, of the stamp and standing of Lord Trenchard. I have not the pleasure of knowing Lord Trenchard, and I have certainly never discussed this with him. His name just occurred to me as that of somebody who has had experience of the air and also of the police. I mention his name just in order to give the House an idea of the type of man who, I think, would be required for this responsible post.
Such an appointment would have a number of advantages. The high personal standing of the man chosen would at once bring home to the public the importance of air-raid precautions. In addition there would be somebody in charge who possessed sufficient authority to take decisions without delay, which is very important. A director-general at the head of this enlarged department would be in a position to get things done. Again, I think the fact that he was not a politician would be an immense asset. It would take air-raid precautions as much out of politics as the three Defence Services, or the Unemployment Assistance Board. It is essential, I think, if the co-operation and the good will not only of the local authorities, but of the general public, is to be enlisted to the full, that air-raid precautions should be placed outside the range of political controversy.
Finally, I should like to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, as well as his predecessor, on the important preparatory work which they have done, without which it would have been quite useless to introduce this Bill to-day. I should also like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary on the energy and thoroughness with which, as the House knows, he has applied himself to the perplexities of this entirely new problem. Again, I think the House would wish, on this Second Reading of this Bill, to convey through the Home Secretary to Wing-Commander Hodsoll an expression of its appreciation of all that he has done in the work, organisation and activities of the Air-Raid Precautions Department. Finally, I think I should be voicing the feelings of the entire House in expressing to my right hon. Friend 80 and his collaborators every good wish for the success of their work, and, above all, for the speedy fruition of their plans.
§ 5.59 p.m.
§ Mr. W. Roberts
With much of the speech of the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys) I find myself in agreement, but before taking up the questions which he raised I should like to refer shortly to this rather deplorable argument which has taken place between the Home Secretary and the local authorities, in order to say two things. If the present settlement is a satisfactory one from the point of view of administration, why was the original proposal of a 50 per cent. division of the expenditure ever suggested? That was one of the reasons for the long delay, and I suggest that in making that proposal the Government were making difficulties for themselves which might very easily have been avoided. We have been told that at least for 18 months or possibly two years there was no communication on this subject between the local authorities and the Government. I should like to add my voice to those of my hon. Friends that the Government should accept the compromise which would give a maximum expenditure of a 2d. rate. It is not only the local authorities who have found it difficult to obtain information from the Government on these matters. Some of us who have put down questions on air-raid precautions have given up doing so because we have never been able to get any answers. We have been looking forward to the opportunity of a Debate in which we might ask our questions.
Looking back through the OFFICIAL REPORT I find that as early as July, 1934, Mr. Baldwin said that these problems had for many years been under close and careful investigation. I find that the problems were considered as a whole in 1935, that conferences were taking place in December, 1935, that the word "consideration" occurs again and again, and that circulars were sent out a year later dealing with the financial responsibility of the local authorities. On all the questions of gas-proof rooms and evacuation it has been almost impossible to get any information. We recognise that it is a difficult problem which requires careful consideration and that it is a problem of enormous magnitude. I rather wonder from the speech of the 81 Home Secretary to-day whether he regards it as being as great a problem as some of us do.
I am not sure whether I fully understood the point that the right hon. Gentleman made with regard to the importance of these precautions as a method of releasing parts of our Air Force for other work. I may be wrong, but I should have thought that there was no possibility of any of the precautions which might be carried out under this Bill making it possible to release any squadrons of aeroplanes which might otherwise be used for home defence. The experience of Spain and China has shown that war to-day, as many of us expected, is war against civilians almost more than war against the armed forces. The German military expert, General von Altrock, made some suggestions some time ago which have been fully carried out. He said:In wars of the future the initial hostile attack will be directed against the great nerve and communication centres of the enemy territory… Discharge of poisonous gas will become the rule…. The war will frequently have the appearance of a destruction en masse of the entire civil population rather than a combat of armed men.If our strategy in the air is that our first defence is in attack, and if, as I believe is the opinion of the Air Force, the best defence against bombing is to bomb the enemy more, does not that also mean that that is the enemy's best defence and that, as we have a much more vulnerable country to protect, the counterattack to our attack will be very deadly indeed? If that be so, I was able to welcome a phrase which the Home Secretary used when he said he was proposing "a very comprehensive plan." I wonder whether this is really a very comprehensive plan. In the Bill there is little to show what is actually going to be done. Perhaps the only way of judging what is to be done is the amount of money which it is proposed to spend. The expenditure per head of the population on this form of passive defence will be roughly 3s. per year, while we are spending, although for a little longer period, 130s. per head per year on the offensive Services. It seems rather astonishing that 3s. per head should be considered a really comprehensive plan of defence. The hon. Member who spoke last pointed out that Germany is spending hundreds of millions of pounds, 82 According to the handbook which is published by the Government, and the speech of the Home Secretary, we may expect attack from three types of bombs. The Home Secretary rather suggested that these might be separate attacks, but no doubt he meant that they might all take place together and that there would be a mixed attack of high explosive bombs, incendiary bombs and gas bombs. We have been told that of these the gas bomb is probably the least dangerous. Yet the Government precautions against gas are those that have had by far the most publicity. The first line of defence against gas is to be what the Home Office at one time called the gas-proof room and which they now call the refuge room. I do not know whether there is any significance in the change of name. I should like to raise a point about the cost of gas-proofing a room. The Home Secretary said that it was the elementary duty of every householder to defend himself to the utmost of his ability. Is the householder expected to do this service for himself? I would like to know what it is likely to cost, say, a person in the East End of London, even if it is possible to attempt to make houses there gas-proof. The Under-Secretary in certain statements gave currency to the idea, which was supported by publications of the Home Office, that a gas-proof room was one in which you could be safe. To quote the sort of statement that gave rise to such an idea, I might refer to the Marquess of Dufferin and Ava, who in another place remarked thatThe vast majority of houses in London and in other great cities were in fact easily made gas-proof by very simple devices.I would like to set against that a statement by Wing-Commander Steele-Perkins, who said that he had been through 9,000 slum houses in London to investigate the problem of gas-proofing, and there were thousands of houses which could not in any circumstances be made gas-proof. That is a factor which has to be seriously taken into account. The Under-Secretary gave the impression, as he did recently for instance in answer to a question, thatthe construction for the public of shelters which would be proof against direct hits by high explosive bombs is impracticable.The Home Secretary to-day did not give that reason, but said that it was too expensive, which is a different story. The Under-Secretary went on to say: 83It is proposed that as far as possible members of the public should remain indoors in a part of their homes or places of work which has been adapted as shelter and is gas- proof and splinter-proof.The impression got abroad which I do not think the Under-Secretary when he replies to-night will give again, that gas-proof rooms give perfect safety. Some work has been done by a group of scientists at Cambridge, and I would like to ask the Home Secretary whether he can give an answer to some of the conclusions which their experiments have tended to show. In their public statements they say that they were working under great difficulties, for they were not using mustard or any other poison gas. They were working under conditions and with resources which would be different for the Government. They do, however, give a figure which needs careful consideration, and it is of sufficient importance for the Government to reply to. It is that in the case of an ordinary average gas-proof room—or should I now call it a refuge room?—if the concentration of gas outside were sufficient to kill a man in 122 hours, the gas-proof room would prolong his life for four hours. That is exceedingly serious criticism.
§ Mr. Roberts
It was an inert gas called carbon dioxide, which may not have the same properties as poison gas, but the experiments are of sufficient importance to warrant an answer, and I ask the Government whether they have carried out similar experiments to test the leakage of mustard gas under field conditions and under conditions which are available to them but not to private workers. On the question of what research has been done I shall have a word to say later, because there has been a most peculiar tendency on the part of the Government to be unwilling to give us the information on which their finding is based. Possibly the Under-Secretary may suggest that the concentrations of gas which are likely to be found in practice during a raid are not so great as to be able to penetrate an ordinary brick wall, and, if so, I would like again to ask, what is the evidence of that? Is there any evidence? Is any research being done to ascertain what is the possible or probable concentration of gas? Some evidence of it is 84 at hand from an accident in Germany, in which phosgene killed people at very long distances from the point of release. I do not wish to go into these details further than to ask the Under-Secretary again whether he will tell us what is the basis for his very considerable belief in the efficacy of the gas-proof room.
The real criticism of the gas-proof room as a protection against an air raid is that, at the very best, it only protects you against gas, which is considered to be the least of the three dangers. It does not protect you in the least against high explosive bombs, or against incendiary bombs, and the public must not be lulled into a false sense of security by being led to think that the gas-proof room is an adequate safeguard against an air raid. The Air-Raid Precautions Department is very insistent that the public must go quietly to their homes when an air raid is on, and that also is a point on which I should like a little more advice and explanation. One realises the importance of keeping up the morale of the people during an air raid, but I do not know that our morale in England is likely to be worse than that of the Spaniards, and I have seen thousands of Spaniards standing outdoors watching an air raid, without losing their morale, and they were probably safer in the streets, or under some shelter from the splinters from anti-aircraft shells, than in their houses—in, that is to say, poorly built houses, which provide no protection whatever against bombing.
The German and French opinion, I understand, is that gas-proofing a room or building is of very little value unless the pressure of the air inside the building is kept up by artificial means—unless arrangements are made so that any flow of air through the chinks and crannies which exist in every room, however carefully it is constructed, is not inwards, but outwards. That involves providing a filtered supply of pure air for every gas-proof room—an extremely expensive undertaking; and I would ask the Under-Secretary whether I am not right in thinking that the opinion in Germany and France now is that that is the only really adequate safeguard against gas, even within a room gas-proofed in the way that the Home Office experts advise.
The second line of defence against gas is gas-masks. I note, in passing, that 85 our gas-masks, on the production of which in such large numbers one must congratulate the Government, are the cheapest gas-masks in Europe. There have been in the German Press some criticisms of their quality. It has been suggested that they are not easy to fit, and there is a difference of opinion as to whether they do or do not prevent the entry of arsenical smoke. I would ask, if our gas-mask is so good, why could it not be impartially tested by persons whose eminence nobody would doubt? I have seen ordinary cigarette smoke going through a gas-mask of this type, and, if cigarette smoke can do so, I wonder whether arsenical smoke cannot also do so. Why should there not be a perfectly impartial test of gas-masks conforming to the specification issued by the Government?
I should also like to make quite certain whether it is the policy of the Government that every individual should be supplied with a gas-mask, in whatever part of the country he is, or whether gas-masks are only to be issued at the last moment when danger seems to be imminent. I believe the Government will be compelled eventually, if not now, to provide proper bomb-proof, gas-proof shelters for at least a very large part of our population. In Paris already, I understand, 2,300,000 of the population can be housed in such shelters, which, though certainly not proof against armour-piercing bombs, will withstand a very considerable amount of bombardment. Here again I would ask whether any experiments are being carried out as to what type of building material will really withstand the degree of shock—
§ Vice-Admiral Taylor
With regard to the French precautions which the hon. Member has mentioned for keeping out bombs, may I ask what bombs they are constructed to keep out? Obviously, they will not keep out armour-piercing bombs.
§ Mr. Roberts
Not armour-piercing shells. I made it clear that they were not constructed to keep out armour-piercing bombs, but that they would 86 keep out high explosive bombs, and they are the only effective method of keeping a population away from gas. I may mention, also, that the French are using at least two of their underground stations. I wonder why the decision has been taken that we should not use underground stations in this country. They were used during the War, and I am inclined to think that, if there is ever any big air raid in London—I hope there never will be—it will be necessary to call out the military or the police to prevent people from going to the underground stations; and, unless they have been made safe beforehand, they will be absolute deathtraps in a raid in which gas, incendiary bombs and high explosive bombs are used. I am not competent to express an opinion, but it has been estimated that the "Tubes" would accommodate 250,000 people; and, what is more, one has heard that the French Government intend to extend their "Tubes" in order that they may be used for this purpose during a war.
Then one comes to the question of the cost of constructing proper refuges specially for this purpose—they could be used for garages in various parts of London during peace-time. A figure has been given to me—it is only an exceedingly tentative figure—by a large contracting firm of builders in London, which indicates that it would be possible to construct bomb-proof and gas-proof shelters, with filtration and pumping plant, at a cost of about£20 per head. That is, of course, a very large sum, especially when compared with the 2s. 6d. which the Government are proposing to spend. It probably means that the cost of providing such accommodation for the whole of the population of London might amount to£100,000,000 or more.
I should like to know, too, what the Government are going to do with regard, for instance, to young children and their mothers. Are they to be left in their gas-proof rooms, or is an attempt going to be made to evacuate them; and, if they are evacuated, what is to happen to the father of the family who is working and has to be away from home? Is not the provision of a bomb-proof shelter absolutely essential for young children? The Publicity Department of the Home Office may get its photographs into the papers of children of three wearing gas-masks, but 87 it is absolutely certain that they will never wear them under the conditions of an air raid. If small children are to be protected, they must be got somewhere into an atmosphere which is safe, and that, of course, raises the whole question of evacuation. I believe that in time of war it will be necessary to evacuate enormous numbers of children. It has been so in the wars which are going on at the present time. Unless evacuation is planned, it will most assuredly be unplanned, but, whether it is planned or unplanned, people will evacuate towns which are being bombed. That is the problem which has arisen with regard to refugees in Spain and in China, and, speaking with a very small experience of housing children who are refugees from bombs, I can say that it is not easy to find the necessary accommodation for them at the moment when it is needed.
Lastly, I would like to ask—I trust that I am not too curious—fora little further information with regard to the fire brigade services which are proposed for dealing with incendiary bombs. I am given to understand that at present the equipment, in one borough and another, is not standard; the size of the hoses varies, and in many other ways the fire-fighting appliances are far short of a standard arrangement. I would ask whether this problem is being dealt with, and whether my information is correct that the£500,000 will not be nearly enough to replace all the fire-fighting appliances which will have to be replaced in order to standardise the whole of the fire-fighting appliances of this country. I should also like to ask how much it is expected that the new small mobile fire engines will cost. The fire services, I believe, cost some£3,500,000 now, and it seems likely that, if war were really on the point of outbreak, double the present fire services would be needed. I would like again to ask how much it is proposed to spend on them, because the idea of these mobile fire services dashing around is excellent, but I would like to know how much is to be done.
The last question that I want to put is on the matter of secrecy in connection with the work of the Air-Raid Precautions Department. If it can be explained to us that, in the interests of the nation, information as to the relative effectiveness, for instance, of a British gas-mask 88 and a French or German gas-mask should not be given, we will acquiesce in not having that information. But I am a little inclined to wonder whether some of the silence has not been rather like Earl Baldwin's silence in not informing the country of the need for rearmament, and whether it has not been because the Government were afraid to inform us of what the situation was. There is far freer discussion in some of the dictatorial countries than there is in England on the question of air-raid precautions. Germany has a special paper devoted to the subject, and much information can be got from that paper which is not available in England.
I would also hope that the lack of communication between the Government and local authorities and the lack of ability of Ministers to answer questions on the Floor of this House have not been due entirely to lack of information and to lack of policy. This is a question of tremendous and vital importance to the well-being of a very large number of people in this country. I believe that the scheme which the Government put forward begins only to touch the fringe of the problem. If the civil population is to be given anything like protection a far greater programme will have to be carried out. It is being carried out in some countries and the Government ought to be making plans to carry it out as soon as possible here. It is a policy of passive defence which menaces no other country.
I do not think the£32,000,000 odd that the Home Secretary is proposing to expend under the Bill for four years is likely to accomplish the words he used at the end of his speech: "To prevent a knockout blow." A large part of the service provided in this is merely to clear up the mess after the raid has taken place, not to prevent lives being lost. It is to bring people into decontamination centres, to put out the fires and clear up the streets. A very much larger policy, either of putting the population, or large sections of it, into something which is relatively safe, such as bomb-proof shelters, or evacuating them into districts not so likely to be attacked, will have to be adopted before the air-raid precautions scheme so far suggested will prevent a knock-out blow. One more question—I was not old enough to fight in the last War—is: how long the higher command in France re- 89 fused to build the pill boxes which eventually they had to erect? I believe that is an analogous case to building the civilian population bomb-proof shelters, which eventually the Government will have to provide.
§ 6.36 p.m.
§ Sir Richard Meller
One remark by the hon. Gentleman who spoke last struck me as being more remarkable than anything I have heard hitherto on the subject of air-raid precautions. He wanted to know why the Government did not arrange to evacuate a large section of the population to a place not likely to be bombed. As I understand it, this Bill is to provide for emergency and to relieve some of the distress which people will be suffering during an attack, and to suggest that you are to have transport services to whisk people away to a spot known to the Government as not likely to be attacked, is one of the most wonderful suggestions we have heard. The right hon. Member who spoke for the Opposition and moved the rejection of the Bill dwelt, at the end of his speech, on what might have been if a different foreign policy had been followed. I think we are to congratulate ourselves that nothing has happened during the two years in which the Government of the country has been considering this question of air-raid precautions. We have to be thankful to the Government that they have so far steered the country from the difficulties of the world that we have not been attacked. I hope we shall not be attacked, but we have now to get on with arrangements so that in the event of our being attacked we shall have reasonable precautions.
I am glad that this Bill has been produced. It is vital that the people should know to what extent they can expect assistance in the event of an air raid. It is necessary that the local authorities should know what co-operation is likely to be expected from the people. I realise that no great success will be attained without the co-operation of the people. Certainly, in most districts where schemes have been mooted and considered, and, to some extent, put into operation, the most remarkable thing has been the response of the people and the number of volunteers. I have no doubt that the number of volunteers which will be required will be forthcoming. We could not expect the Government to provide for the 90 whole of the personnel to carry on this work.
The local authorities are anxious to know what part of the expenditure is likely to be borne by the State. The right hon. Gentleman who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench said he spoke for the various local authorities of the country. He spoke as leader of the various local government associations who attended conferences with the Minister, but I suggest that we are not entitled to accept that statement as being made with the assent of every local authority. From a letter in the "Times," it is clear that the Association of Municipal Corporations did not agree to the extent to which, at the meeting with the Home Secretary, it was said they had. I think the number of corporations for which this Association speaks is no less than 370. The County Councils' Association have not yet finally met. So that their decision cannot be said to support the views of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison). Although we have had suggestions that they were speaking on behalf of the county councils of the country, they did not speak for the whole of the councils. I happen to be Vice-Chairman of a county council and of an air-raid precautions committee myself, but I am not speaking for them at all, but on my own authority. I am going to say that there has been nothing said by the air-raid precautions committee or the county council with which I am connected to justify the suggestion that they spoke on behalf of those two bodies. I recognise the importance of these bodies, but it cannot be said that the local authorities are, in the main, taking the view which has been expressed, that they ought not to go forward until there was a guarantee that the costs beyond 2d. would be met by the State.
I do not regard this Measure as a matter of detail at all. It is a Measure for setting up a machine, and the detail will have to be worked out later. I hone that when the Home Office have authority they will go on very speedily with details. I want to say a word as to what has occurred between the county authority and the co-ordinating authority for the air-raid precautions committee in the county I know. There has been some holding back, but not because the amount of the Government's contribution was in- 91 sufficient. They were doubtful as to the full extent and probable cost of the scheme. I am bound to say that, in the majority of cases, the schemes have come through. There has been a wonderful co-operation, and in some cases there have been demonstrations which have not only been useful to the county as a whole but have brought in a number of people as volunteers. I say that, although there has been delay in producing this Bill, it cannot be said that the country, and certainly that part which I know, has been backward in its endeavours to assist.
The scheme provides that the county council, in the first place, shall be the authority for co-ordinating the schemes, and that, if desired, the urban district or rural district authority may submit their own scheme to the Home Secretary after consultation with the county council. I do not imagine that there will be many schemes submitted in that way. I think the majority will be submitted through the county council, the county council acting as the co-ordinating machine.
Difficulties with regard to expense may arise in some of the rural areas, but I contemplate that many of these difficulties will be surmounted in the course of co-ordination by the central authority. The question we have to consider and which we shall be considering mainly throughout this discussion is one of finance. Although the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney moved the rejection of the Bill he said that the Bill, unfortunately, is necessary, and I do not imagine that any one of the authorities who may have been quoted as opposing the progress of this Measure on financial grounds would really, if they were asked definitely the question, Are you prepared to set these schemes back for another year or whatever time it may be until you get your 100 per cent.? would wish to do that at all. I think that the right hon. Gentleman was probably quite fair and honest when he said that they did not want to hamper. He was speaking with two voices, the one on behalf of local government authorities, and the other of the political side here.
The work which the authorities have to undertake on behalf of the Government is early so mixed up with their own local organisation and local government that 92 you cannot separate the two things. No local authority would desire that the work contemplated under this Bill should be undertaken by a Government body within the area of the local government authority. Much of the work outlined in the air-raid precautions are so closely allied with that already performed by the local authorities that it would be not only costly but unwise to do so. I have only to mention the question of fire protection, sanitary measures, decontamination, highway repairs and street lighting. The local authorities have an obligation put upon them for fire protection. It is true that in some of the rural districts they have never lived up to that obligation, but I could imagine that if they had the opportunity of 100 per cent. contribution, there would be a good many fire brigades set up in places of which no one had ever thought. There are other measures which upon 100 per cent. contribution we should find being put forward as necessary for a complete local government service.
The Government have come forward with a very generous offer. It certainly goes beyond anything which any member of the committee over which I preside has anticipated. They never in their wildest moments suggested 100 per cent. Some of those, perhaps, who were not too anxious to see precautions introduced at all said that the proposals were futile and that anything short of bomb-proof shelters would be useless, and therefore it seemed a waste of money to entertain anything short of the ideal. But the majority of the people realise the necessity for doing something. The right hon. Gentleman who spoke for the Opposition, stated in reply to some people who objected to air-raid precautions, that he himself would not be responsible for refusing to render assistance even if it meant the saving of one life only. That is a point of view which has been developed and accepted to a far larger degree than in July, 1935, when this matter was first considered.
The State has undertaken to provide the necessary material for local authorities, a very considerable item. Some people imagine that when the State is called upon to make some contribution it gets it from some hidden source, and it does not come out of the ratepayers' or taxpayers' pockets; you either take it from the air or out of a bottomless purse or 93 somewhere. Whether it is a question of rates or taxes or of receiving a State grant, the money in the main comes out of the same pocket. I do not believe local authorities would refuse to work the scheme because of a mere difference of to per cent.; that is not the view of the majority of members of the local authorities or of the ratepayers themselves. I do not regard State grants as unmixed blessings. Sometimes they lead to a greater expenditure than was originally contemplated, particularly in maintenance charges. It is sometimes thought to be very helpful to receive the offer of a grant, but consideration is not always given to future liabilities by reason of the acceptance of the grant. I hold the view that administration without some financial responsibility is uneconomic. When you have local authorities imagining that the expenditure is to be met by some other authority and that all that they have to do is to administer it, you find that you will not get economy at all but extravagance.
If this Measure left the local authority full power to do what they thought was necessary without having to consider the cost I am satisfied that the cost would inevitably rise. I am convinced the decision to place part of the cost upon the local authority is the right one. Nothing has been said that should lead the House to believe that there is a feeling outside that this Measure should be delayed. On the contrary, the feeling outside is that the Measure should be put forward as quickly as possible. I do not believe that there is any volume of opinion which says that the Government are wrong in not paying 200 per cent. I believe that the majority of people who think seriously upon the expenditure of local government affairs would say that this is a very proper contribution and that the Government have been exceedingly generous. If there was any doubt—and I am not prepared to accept it at the moment—that the cost upon the local authority was to rise very high, I should he anxious to press for a limitation of the expenditure of the local authority but I do not think that that is necessary. The Home Secretary has made a very fair offer. He knows, as we all know, that this is in an experimental stage. He has had the opportunity of gathering the information as to the probable cost, and I am prepared to accept his statement.
94 The right hon. Gentleman in order to allay our fears, says frankly that he is prepared to consider any suggestion which would limit the operation of the Measure, and that he would reconsider, a year or two later after greater experience had been obtained, whether it is fair to limit the contribution of the State to the amount which he is suggesting to-day, or whether he should review it having regard to the heavy burdens which fall upon certain sections or areas in the country. We ought to accept the suggestion made by my hon. Friend that possibly this matter might be raised in Committee and a Clause introduced setting out the views which the Home Secretary expressed. We should let the Bill go through with the promise that the Home Secretary is prepared to reconsider the matter after a reasonable time has elapsed, and we should be reassured from the point of view of the local authorities that it is not going to be an exceptional burden.
I could say a great deal on what has been achieved by local authorities in my neighbourhood. In support of the view which I have expressed, that local authorities generally must not be taken to have agreed to the decision made by the local authorities after their last meeting with the Home Secretary. May I quote from one of the letters I received this morning from a local authority, which ran in these terms:We shall he glad if you will oppose the Bill which is to- be presented to the House to-night. We have received a communication from the Urban District Councils Association, but so far I have not been able to obtain any instructions from my council, hut as far as I can ascertain I think it would be the wish of my members that a limit should be placed upon the expenditure of the local authority.That is the position of some hundreds of councils to-day.
§ Mr. R. C. Morrison
In view of the fact that the hon. Gentleman is making what may be taken to be an attack upon the Urban District Councils Association, it might be just as well if I read the paragraph to which he has referred. The letter from the Secretary of the Urban District Councils Association says:I am therefore requested to ask you to communicate at once with your Member and to ask him to associate himself with any action which may be taken on the Bill to secure the limitation of the local burden to the produce of a rate of 2d, in the£. 95 I am desired to state emphatically that the sole object of the association is to secure this financial safeguard. There is no intention to obstruct the passage of the Bill, as it is fully realised that the duty of the local authorities is to assist His Majesty's Government in administering the provisions of the Bill when it becomes law.I think that that ought to be said.
Sir R. Mellen
My point is—and I am not now speaking on behalf of the rest of the local authorities—that this is the first communication they have received. The earlier part of this letter sets out the whole procedure and negotiations which have taken place, and finally asks them to communicate with their Member. It does not ask that the clerk should communicate with members of his body and ascertain their views in order that that body might be informed as to their desires. I am not complaining of these associations of local authorities. They do very good work, and all that I am asking the House to do is not to place too much reliance upon the statements which are made. If hon. Members would make inquiries within their own constituencies they would probably find, as I have found, that it is not the voice of members of local authorities generally but is the voice which has been assumed to be the desire of local authorities as measured by this association. I do not want to say more except to wish this Bill well, and I hope that it will go through Committee very quickly. There is nothing that the local authorities desire more than to lend their aid, and to get on with the job.
§ 6.59 p.m.
§ Dr. Haden Guest
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Mitcham (Sir R. Meller) made a number of very interesting remarks upon the financial aspect of this Bill with which I do not propose to deal, except to call attention to the fact that even he agrees that it would be desirable to have some modification of the Bill in Committee, and that the Home Secretary should give an undertaking with regard to any possible excesses of expenditure and revision. I want to call attention to another remarkable statement by the hon. Member at the beginning of his speech, when he said that he did not understand why the question of evacuation from areas of large populations had been raised. I venture to say that that shows that the hon. Gentleman does not see 96 the problem in its bigness or in its importance, and I think in that he is typical of very many people in the country as a whole.
This question of air-raid precautions is not a little domestic matter which can be settled by an adjustment between the two sides of this House—a discussion of merely how much money is to be paid or not. It is a question of bringing this country into the forefront of a tremendous war—if war should occur; and in conditions of air invasion, the whole country would be in the condition not of the trenches but of the active area of conflict. Therefore, the question of the evacuation of the population is one of the first importance. I do not propose to concern myself very much to-night with the question of finance, excepting in so far as what I may have to say on policy and the special measures which are proposed to deal with the air-raid precautions may bear on that. I shall show, I hope, that the estimates of the Minister are probably inaccurate to the extent of 200 per cent., and that it is very unlikely indeed that it will be possible to carry out what he proposes for a sum of 32,000,000 capital expenditure by the Government and expenditure through the local authorities.
I want, first of all, to address myself to the very important question, for the country as a whole, and for every citizen in the country, of whether the plans proposed by the Ministry are really adequate for defence. The question is not only a question of putting up gas-proof rooms or of supplying gas-masks. It is a question of directing policy. Have the Ministry considered the question, looking, as it were, at the map of this country, and considering what parts of it are likely to be attacked, what parts are less likely to be attacked, and what should be done with the populations in those areas. For instance, there is the area of the East End of London. It is quite obvious it can be no secret to any war ministry in any part of the world—that the London Docks are a vital point of the greatest importance to this country. I would ask the hon. Member to consider whether it would not be wise in a time of international emergency to evacuate the whole of the population around those docks, living as they do in a congested area, in order that they might not be unnecessarily exposed to attack. The opinion has 97 already been quoted of Commander Steele-Perkins, a very competent official of the Air-Raid Precautions Department, who stated that after inspecting a large number of houses, I think in the East End of London, he came to the conclussion that they could not be rendered gas-proof. That applied not only to the houses which Commander Steele-Perkins himself inspected, but to a very large area in the East of London, the southeast of London, and, in fact, many parts of London, where, as I know, the houses cannot be made gas-proof, and where the populations are in close contiguity to areas of what one may call military importance. The question of the evacuation of the population ought to be the first consideration for the Ministry. There is certainly no reason, no sense, certainly no humanity, in allowing people to remain in those places.
I venture to say that it is not only a clear expression of cost which is required—the relative proportion of cost which is to be borne by the Government and by the local authorities, which is Important for the general country—but a clear statement of what the policy of the Government is on such vital questions as evacuation. I was surprised to hear in the statement of the right hon. Gentleman this evening that air-raid shelters are seriously proposed as an alternative to evacuation in the distressed areas. I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman has calculated the numbers of people who would require to be protected in air-raid shelters, the cost of those shelters and the difficulty of getting people to those shelters in the time. Take a congested area like Bethnal Green or any of the areas round the Docks—narrow streets, very high, tall buildings, very overcrowded areas. In the case of an air raid on London, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, the amount of warning which we should get in London would be from 7½ to 10 minutes. It would be then a case of air-raid warnings whatever they were, maroons, bells, alarms by the police, making sounds in the streets, and then thousands, and, indeed, in the case of East London, of hundreds of thousands of people pouring into the streets, and making for the air-raid shelters. The right hon. Gentleman must know as well as I do—and indeed every other Member of this House—that during those five minutes you would be exposing those 98 people to the risk and the probability of slaughter by any bombs which were dropped. They would never reach the air-raid shelters; they could not; they would not have the time. That is why I believe, in fact, it has been the policy of the Home Office not to encourage these large underground air-raid shelters.
I was very surprised to hear in the Minister's statement to-night that it was proposed to put up these air-raid shelters. I realise that this is an alternative to the policy of evacuation; but, difficult though the policy of evacuation is, and great as its principal problems are—I do not under-rate them for a moment—we have to realise that if this country becomes involved in a war, then, as far as London is concerned, London must be regarded as a front line position, and people must not be left in areas like the docks where they are going to be exposed to bombing on a wholesale scale, There is also the question of what is to be done with industries. I hope the Under-Secretary when 112 replies will take notice of some of my questions and give some indication of what is going to happen with regard to the question of the location of industry. Is consideration to be given seriously to the question of distributing industries in such a way as to spread them over the country more than they are at the present time? I know that this matter has been considered by some industrialists who are actively considering whether in the case of industry located on the Thames they shall not in case of national emergency shut up those industries and transfer the work elsewhere. I think it would be a good thing if the Government would give the industrialists in the country some indication of what they should do. I will not deal with gas, water. electricity and other undertakings. The Home Secretary said a further statement would be made on them. I need not point out that all those services, such places as the Lots Road Power Station, the Gas Light and Coke Company's establishment at Beckton would be most tempting targets for any enemy.
Then there is the urgent question of food storage. It is only within the last few weeks that the Government have issued an air-raid precautions booklet giving information on the protection of food in the case of air attacks. Are they going to follow that up by laying down a policy which would distribute the stores of food 99 more evenly over the country than at present? At certain ports of this country there are enormous accumulations of food, and in case of war it would certainly be exceedingly dangerous to the nation that they should remain there. I would venture to say that the ports of this country ought to be definitely grouped, with allocated functions so that in the case of the disablement of one port another could take its place. I see no way of avoiding that, but all of that must come on the already overworked shoulders of the Minister, who has already so many functions to deal with, as was read out to us this afternoon.
There is this question, also, of air-raid shelters. I hope that the Under-Secretary when he replies will tell us something about that. Then, again, on the question of policy, the Government must really be a little more definite and a little more clear. The general public do not know what they are supposed to do. The municipalities do not know what they are supposed to do; nor do the large employers of labour, the big industrialists, know what they are to do. They have not been told. Within the last few weeks I have had conversations with some of the very large industrialists in this country, and they said to me: "We suppose the Government are going to pay for our air-raid precautions scheme, or a large part of it." I said: "My experience of Governments, and especially of this Government, does not lead me to suppose that anything like that will happen. You will not be paid anything at all." The Government ought quite definitely to lay down their policy in that respect and say what they expect the employers to do. It is quite true that there is a handbook published by the Air-Raid Precautions Department which lays down how underground shelters are to be made in open ground, adjacent to works, how many people can be accommodated in those shelters and so on; but that is not sufficient, because the employers do not know what they are expected to do, and consequently they are holding up, as far as I know, and in very few cases have they done anything at all to protect their staffs. One large employer in a large town not unknown to the Prime Minister, informed me that if an air-raid warning came in that town they would send their workmen, number- 100 ing 2,000, to their homes. A perfectly ridiculous, suicidal proposal—indeed, a murderous proposal.
I have no doubt that in time of war active air defence will be available, and I have not the least doubt in the world that it will be effective. But this passive defence is the question which will determine whether this Government are going to endure successfully through an attack, whether it is, in fact, going to be defeated or victorious. Therefore, it is extraordinarily important that we should be quite sure that our air-raid precautions scheme is adequate. There are, as we know, a very large number of unknown quantities in the calculation of the expense of the air-raid precautions scheme. Last week I asked the Minister some questions, in reply to one of which he gave me an answer detailing the number of persons required for first-aid parties, rescue parties, decontamination squads, air-raid wardens, and so on. But what I want to call attention to is the view, expressed also in reply to a number of questions. He said that the number of persons required to staff a post, that is, a first-aid post, is at present under review; it might amount to 50 or more. That is a very doubtful statement. With regard to dressers and nurses in hospitals, he said these would depend on the number of beds; no figures were available. When dealing with ambulance personnel, and so on, he said no precise scale of ambulance personnel or gas detection officers had yet been laid down. He said also that, in regard to the numerous special services, water, gas, electricity and so on, no scales had been laid down. He said that the number of auxiliary firemen could not be estimated. The whole matter is in very grave doubt. In those circumstances any estimate must be extraordinarily, not approximate, but conjectural. I do not see how it is possible to make an accurate estimate in the circumstances.
The question of expense is not got rid of merely by saying how excellent the British local authorities are, and that we are insisting on a division of expenditure between the National Government and the local authorities. It may be that we shall come to that. It is true that we are extremely fortunate in having local authorities so excellent and such admirable 101 organs of government that they could, if necessary, continue their services and safeguard the property and welfare of the citizens even if they were, as might happen in an air attack, completely cut off from the rest of the country by the bombing of railways, telegraph wires and the ordinary means of communication. But the local authorities will have to face a very large number of new problems, and I do not think that they can possibly estimate what the expense will be. Moreover, it is not fair to saddle them with an unknown liability, which the Home Secretary cannot compute accurately, as he confessed to me in the answer he gave last Thursday, and which the local authorities cannot possibly compute because the Government have not made their policy clear.
Is there any calculation of how any damage to municipal housing estates is to be paid for. That is an enormously important question. The Government have set themselves against any national system of insurance, and, consequently, there is no insurance available. What is to happen if one of the housing estates is destroyed, or some very valuable blocks of buildings are destroyed, or if a hospital or other municipal buildings, involving damage to the extent of hundreds of thousands, or perhaps millions of pounds, are destroyed? Who is to pay? Is it to be put entirely on the local authorities? Again, where are the local authorities to get their supplies? The right hon. Gentleman talked about the necessity of central supplies of fire-fighting apparatus. Is it not also essential that there should be some national and central control of the cost of the materials which will be required by the local authorities? Otherwise, there will be probably a prodigious ramp in these things. Quite apart from the schemes themselves, every local authority will have to face a very considerable increase of expense by increases to its clerical and general staff, and increases in the staffs of hospitals and other institutions. Every local authority controlling hospitals has to prepare a plan showing which hospitals can be used as casualty clearance stations, which hospitals will be used as base hospitals, and which institutions, such as public assistance institutions, fever hospitals, mental hospitals, etc., can be cleared of their inhabitants and used as base hospitals. 102 That will involve a very considerable amount of expense.
I should like to go into details of the services required per roo,000 of the population, which were kindly supplied to me by the Minister last Thursday. I am taking the higher figures, because they are the only ones that appear at all adequate. Here are the services estimated to be required in certain branches of work in connection with air-raid precautions—first-aid stretcher parties, 60; rescue parties, 32; decontamination squads, 36; air-raid wardens, 400; first-aid posts, 50. Those were the figures that were given by the Minister. The figures which I am about to give were not included in the right hon. Gentleman's figures, but are my estimates. They are: Additional nurses, 50; breakdown and repair personnel, 36; additional fire-fighting personnel, 50; gas detection officers, 2—these are scientific people with the standard of qualification for university lectureships in chemistry—extra ambulance drivers, 14; cyclist messengers, 20. That makes a total of 750 per roo,000 of the population. I think I have grossly under-estimated the numbers required. I think it is very likely to be 1000.
When you apply this personnel to the total population living in towns of 50,000 inhabitants and over, you reach a figure which shows that you will have to employ a total of 165,000 people. These people will all require training. You cannot, for instance, have decontamination squads without training. These men have to learn how to work in special decontamination clothing, with hoods, respirators and gum boots. They must have a special routine of putting on and taking off the clothing, combined with discipline in working together so that they do not do more damage than they avoid by their work. You cannot have these people working without giving them very elaborate training, probably employing them on a tentative basis and spending considerable money in the process.
I estimate that it will cost, on the average, to train the personnel, something like£2 10s. per year per head. That will amount to a total sum of 1412,000 for the training of these people alone. The amount suggested in the Bill as the running expense to be paid by the local authorities is£1,300,000. I have intentionally underestimated the expense. The 103 Government can quite easily riddle my estimate, because it has no more basis than their own estimate, which is practically none; but I think the Government will find it very difficult to show that they are not going to have to pay a large sum of money for the training of the personnel. You have an army of 165,000 people engaged in air precaution work in towns of 50,000 and over, and you must have an additional army for the rest of the country, including the villages, some of which will not require anything while others will. For instance, a village in Essex will certainly need to have air-raid precaution services while a village in Breconshire will not. Breconshire is one of the safety areas to which people might be evacuated.
If you are to have all these people employed and learning how to work together, you are bound to have very considerable expense. Already air raid exercises have been held in different parts. They have been held in Portsmouth, Southampton, and more recently near London, where you have had complete black-outs. All these people have to learn how to coordinate their activities, one set working on decontamination work, another on first-aid work, another on ambulance work, and so on. I have taken part in one of these exercises, and I know how difficult and complicated the work is. You are not going to get your air-raid precaution services active and efficient unless you have a good deal of training beforehand, and that is bound to cost money. In the estimate I can find nothing whatever for the cost of instructing the public. How is the instruction of the public to be carried out? A gas-mask is not a thing that people can put on and off by instinct. How are they to put it on? How are children to be taught to put it on and off? It is simple to teach them, but it is not a thing that just happens of itself. Someone will have to teach the general population how to use the gas-masks and how to make their rooms gas-proof in those cases where it is possible to make them gas-proof. I want to show that the Government estimates are not accurate.
Now I come to the question of mustard gas. The Secretary of State suggests that the staff of a first-aid post may be 50 or more. I wonder whether he realises that a first-aid post is a very complicated 104 organisation, consisting of three departments, one for dealing with persons whose clothing is contaminated, another one dealing with wounded and contaminated and another dealing with what are called the uncontaminated wounded. My point is that every first-aid post is divided into three sections, and each section is divided into a male side and a female side, so that there are a large number of separate rooms. I have here a diagram of a first-aid post taken from page 26 of the Air-Raid Precautions Memorandum No. I, and I find that there are II rooms. For that post the Home Secretary states that a staff of 50 will be requisite. That is to say, the staff will have to deal, perhaps, with a rush of wounded and gassed persons, of whom there may be several hundreds at one place. There is only to be one of these first-aid posts about every square mile. The post may be full of people some of whom will require to have their clothing decontaminated, some will require to have mustard gas removed from their hands, and some may have to have broken legs or burns dealt with. There will be 50 people available for that work, or about five per room, with clerks who will have to check clothing, valuables and everything else. It is an impossible proposition. There will require to be at least double that number.
With regard to these first-aid posts, I do not want to give the House a lecture on the horrors of gas warfare, but I should like to call attention to one of the properties of mustard gas which makes it essential to get treatment very quickly. If mustard gas, which is a liquid, gets on to the bare skin and is not removed within five minutes, there will be a lesion of greater or lesser degree according to the amount of mustard gas and the area of its application to the skin. The right hon. Gentleman, in answer to my question last Thursday, said that these first-aid posts, which will include the places where mustard gas can be dealt with, are to be situated at no greater distance than one mile. You may have persons suffering from the effects of mustard gas and such persons may be half a mile from one of these posts. It is not everyone who can cover half a mile in five minutes, but if such persons do not get to the first-aid post within five minutes they will become casualties. That is not good economy. You may have a very large number of people affected with mustard 105 gas. I do not want to terrify anyone by suggesting that we shall have a large number of deaths from this cause. Mustard gas does not cause a large number of deaths, but we may have a very large number of casualties from it.
When the right hon. Gentleman was talking about the nature of air warfare and how it happens, he forgot one additional horror, and that is that mustard gas can be discharged not merely from a bomb but from a tank, which can spread the mustard gas over the population. Such a tank even flying at a great height could contaminate the whole population of the area below unless they had sought protection. If people were foolish enough to be out when an aeroplane was flying overhead and dropping mustard gas, we might get the people in the streets from Oxford Circus to the Marble Arch all contaminated with mustard gas, and unless they had their clothing removed within 15 minutes and decontaminated, and they had the mustard gas removed from their skin within five minutes every one of those persons would become a casualty. They may not suffer greatly, but everyone will require hospital treatment, and if dealt with properly it will put the hospitals to a terrible strain.
I want the Under-Secretary in his reply to give us some definite information with regard to the adequacy of the protection which the Government propose should be taken by private individuals against gas, and the adequacy of the protection of the civilian type of respirators. The Government in their handbook say that the civilian respirator is an efficient protection against all types of gas; that it is effective not only against mustard gas but against asphyxiating gas and against gases which cause noxious smoke. Can the Under-Secretary say whether this is based on the evidence of any scientific inquiry initiated by the Government, and, if so, will they give a reassurance to the country in that sense. Secondly, I should like to know whether the Government have tried out the methods of gas-proofing rooms which are laid down in their handbook, and whether they have been tested under conditions which are likely to occur in war time? Can they give us an assurance that any scientific authority has investigated this matter and say that the methods are of a satisfactory kind? Further, when the air-raid precautions propaganda falls into its swing, 106 as it will do when the Bill is passed, you will get a large number of private people wanting to buy the various forms of appliances for their own use. Will the Government consider the issue for every kind of apparatus and appliance used for gas protection of some kind of national mark so as to make sure that the general public are not fleeced, and that only articles which are really effective will be sold on the general market.
Another question, and a vital one, is that dealing with air-raid precautions officers. A question was asked to-day, and the right hon. Gentleman said that 78 local authorities have up to the moment appointed air-raid precautions officers. The right hon. Gentleman is no doubt aware that no standard of qualification for these officers has been laid down, and no statement as to pay, and it appears to me a matter of such great importance that I suggest the Bill should be amended so as to lay down a standard of qualification for air-raid precautions officers because they will be, in the phrase of the right hon. Gentleman, the kingpin of air-raid precaution schemes in the areas. I think the Government might very well lay down in the Bill what the qualifications of these air-raid precautions officers must be. I hope the Government fully realise the tremendous gravity of the situation, and also the tremendous responsibilities which rest upon them for protecting the whole of the civilian population. I do not believe it is possible to protect the civilian population in such congested and overcrowded areas as the East End of London, or similar areas which, unfortunately, exist in our other great cities.
I think it is essential for the Government to plan well in advance the wholesale evacuation of certain populations. Children, invalids and aged persons certainly ought to be evacuated and as this, of course, cannot be done when the air-raid warnings are sounding, it must be done in a time of national emergency when the Government: consider that it is no longer safe for people to remain there. Under aerial warfare conditions the whole country will be at war, and the only safe and proper thing is for the Government to safeguard to the best of its ability the whole population not only by shelters and the supply of gas-masks but by planning a geographical distribution of the population living at points of danger.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Viscount Wolmer
I intervene only for a few minutes for one purpose, and that is to support the Government in the stand they have taken that it is right to ask local authorities to make a contribution towards the expenses that are envisaged in the Bill. I am certain that if the Home Secretary had yielded to the arguments of the right hon. Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) and those associated with him in the conferences, he would have been betraying a principle which is fundamental to all sound government, and that is that administrative responsibility must be accompanied by some degree of financial responsibility. I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Mitcham (Sir J. Meller) that the circulars we have all been receiving do not really represent the views of members of local authorities.
§ Mr. E. J. Williams
That is a very serious charge to make on local authorities. Surely the Noble Lord will give us some evidence.
§ Viscount Wolmer
I am referring to the circulars which have been received, and I have expressed my own opinion upon them, having been in contact with members of local authorities in my constituency and discussed this matter with them. The opinion I have come to is that the gentlemen with whom I have been conferring support the Government in this matter, and are not in favour of the policy advocated in the circulars. I suggest that it is not a contribution to the argument to say that the work and duties contemplated in the Bill are unprecedented and partake of the nature of national defence and, therefore, ought to be paid entirely by the Government. Of course, the problem is unprecedented. We have to meet a new problem in a new way, and I have not heard a single speaker in the Debate or outside the House suggest that these are duties which can be carried out by anybody except the local authorities themselves. Therefore, if this work is to be carried out by local authorities, I submit it is necessary that they should bear some share of the expense. I do not think the fear of the right hon. Member for South Hackney that the decision is going to cause delay is at all well-founded. I am certain that when local authorities know exactly what they have to do they will buckle to and 108 do it with just as much energy as any Government Department in Whitehall.
The right hon. Gentleman poured a great deal of scorn on the block grant standard, but it seems to me to be a very fair standard. It is the standard that has been accepted as the best formula you can devise of the poverty of a local authority, or rather of its wealth in comparison with the civic duties it has to perform, and that is really the only differentiation you want to make in this case. It is fair that the poorer authorities should receive more assistance than the richer. I do not believe you can make any differentiation on the score of so-called vulnerability. Vulnerability is not a good word. It is not a question of whether a place is vulnerable or not; it is a question whether it is likely to be attacked, and in a short time I think it will be impossible to say that any town or village in England, Scotland or Wales will not be open to attack in the next war. Certainly every local authority of every town will insist, and quite rightly, on taking adequate precautions in the event of such an attack. Therefore, it is clear that the degree of assistance to be given by the Government must depend on the financial position of the town, and not upon its geographical position.
The right hon. Member for South Hackney said that he was afraid social services might suffer. I think he is probably right. I do not see how this country under any system can spend hundreds of millions of pounds on preparation for Defence without the social services suffering. That is part of the tragedy of the situation in which we find ourselves at the moment. But let us recognise the fact that you cannot eat your cake and have it, and that at this particular moment National Defence and the protection of the country must take first place. I was glad to hear the right hon. Member for South Hackney recognise this. I think the Home Secrtary has met the representatives of local authorities perfectly fairly when he says—I understand he has given a pledge—that if the estimate he has made that not much more than a rd. rate is likely to be involved proves to be erroneous, he will meet them in conference again and reconsider the matter. I think he would be betraying the principle for which he was contending if you put a limit of that sort in the way of these spending authorities, and if the 109 estimate which the Government have made is wrong they have told us that they are prepared to reconsider the question. I think also the offer to put a time limit on the Bill is a reasonable one. Therefore, hon. Members opposite are not entitled to say that the Government are putting an unknown charge on local authorities. They have allocated the responsibilities that are proper to local authorities to local authorities and the responsibilities which are proper to the central authority to the central authority, and now both parties can get on with the job.
I should like to congratulate the Home Secretary upon getting on with his job. I think the House was a little disquieted by the statement of the right hon. Member for South Hackney that there was no invitation to local authorities from the Government between July, 1935, and February, 1937. It is due to the House that we should be told why that was so. Was it because those 18 months were occupied in making plans and schemes which are now ready? If so, the time has not been wasted. But I think we ought to have some information on the point. None of us forgets the lament from one of His Majesty's Ministers over "the years that the locusts have eaten." I want an assurance that there are no more locusts about in this matter. It is over three years since my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) made a speech, which in certain passages was almost identical with some of the remarks made by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary this afternoon, explaining to the House what would be the result of an air raid with incendiary bombs on London. Two and a quarter years ago the Home Secretary issued a warning to all local authorities.
Where are we now? We are discussing the Second Reading of a Bill which, I suggest, ought to have been passed three years ago. I am not blaming my right hon. Friend, for he has been in office only a few months, and it is clear that he, at any rate, is not allowing the grass to grow under his feet. I hope that having made such an excellent start, he will keep up the pace. It is most important that detailed instructions to householders on how they can make splinter-proof and bomb-proof shelters for themselves and hoy they can make their rooms as gas-proof as is possible, should be issued 110 without delay. It is also very important that similar instructions and information to local authorities on how shelters can be constructed, and the types of shelters likely to be most useful, should be issued as soon as possible so that everybody can get on with the job.
As to what has been said this afternoon about evacuation and shelters, are we sure that there would be the opportunity to evacuate a large portion of the population of London? The hon. Member for North Islington (Dr. Guest), who has made one of his delightful speeches, seemed to contemplate moving the whole of the population of the East End of London to West Wales, but he had previously reminded the House that the warning that London would get of an air raid would be to minutes. Therefore, it is clear that such an evacuation would have to take place on the outbreak of war; but is the hon. Member sure that the air raid would come after the outbreak of war? There are cases on record in very recent history where a first-class attack has been made before any declaration of war has taken place. I think that is what is likely to occur in the next war. There is talk of a nine days' war. Everybody knows that the side which gets its blow in first will start with a very big advantage, and that, I am afraid, will be a heavy temptation to some people. For these reasons, I do not think we are entitled to assume that the evacuation policy will be possible—it may be, but I think 11 very likely that it will not be.
§ Mr. Attlee
I do not think the Noble Lord is quite fair to my hon. Friend the Member for North Islington (Dr. Guest). My hon. Friend suggested that there should be evacuation at a time of national tension; he did not suggest that we should wait for the declaration of war.
§ Viscount Wolmer
The hon. Member said that, but does the right hon. Gentleman think that it would be possible or practicable to start evacuating London at a time of national tension? What is the first thing that happens when national tension becomes really serious? It is a process which is called mobilisation. That mobilisation involves the use of all the railways, all the roads, every means of communication; the whole transport system of the country is paralysed for so many days, the period being long or short according to the size of the army, 111 while mobilisation is proceeding. The right hon. Gentleman suggests that it would be possible to superimpose on mobilisation such a gigantic operation as moving half the population of London to the Western Counties. I do not believe it would be. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman would suggest that it would be possible to move that population before mobilisation. Any step of that nature would be very likely to precipitate a delicate situation. We all know that at the beginning of the last War, Germany declared war on Russia because Russia had started mobilisation. It is well known that mobilisation, or any similar step, may at once precipitate war. Therefore, I believe it is very doubtful whether this policy of evacuation would be possible, at any rate as far as the first air raid was concerned.
Moreover, it is clear that there is an enormous number of women, as well as men, whom it would not be possible to evacuate from London because they would be required to work in the munitions factories and to feed their husbands who would be working in various national services. Therefore, they would necessarily be a very large number of people in London, however much one was able to carry out an evacuation policy, and there would necessarily be a large number of very small children. I do not believe it would be possible to make those small children wear gas masks; they would have to be in gas-free rooms. It seems to me that the Government and the local authorities will be forced to the necessity of providing some measure of shelter in our great cities. At any rate, there ought to be underground creches where very small children could be accommodated in gas-proof rooms. Those are details which are really much more appropriate to the Estimates than to this Debate. My only plea is that my right hon. Friend should take the public into his confidence as much as possible, and should give us as much information as possible and as quickly as possible, so that every council and every householder may be able to press on with the job, and the many months which I fear have been lost be overtaken rapidly.
§ 7.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen
The question before the House is a very big one. There has been much discussion as to whether the ex- 112 penditure should be borne by the local authorities or by the State. The Glasgow Corporation has definitely informed all its representatives that, in its opinion, the cost of the service should be borne by the Government. I imagine that hon. Members in all parts of the House will have had similar information from their local authorities. I do not believe this question is of as great importance as the general question of the provision of air-raid precautions. I have listened to the arguments of the Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer), who supported the Government. He tried to make out that if the local authorities had not to bear part of the cost, there would be extravagance. But every scheme that a local authority brought forward would have to receive the sanction or approval of the Government, and thus the Government would have an overriding authority which could make any such extravagance impossible.
I believe that the whole argument about the division of the cost between the local authorities and the Government is simply illusory, and that the Government's refusal is due to the conservative minds of Treasury officials, who always believe that they must do something of this sort in order to cut down the expense of the State. I think that the local authorities should not have to undertake any part of the cost, because there are many areas in the country where an addition to the rates would cause very great difficulties owing to the burden of unemployment which those districts have to bear. If the State were to undertake to carry the whole burden, those hard-hit districts, such as the distressed areas and Glasgow, would not be faced with the difficulties which otherwise will face them. One hon. Member said that if the local authorities had not to pay, many of them would go in for new fire brigades; but I think that a fire brigade is one of the things of which the Government are agreeing to pay 200 per cent. of the cost; and in any case, anything done under this Bill, when it becomes an Act, would require the sanction of the Government. This shows, to my mind, that all the talk about the cost being on the State is very largely humbug and nonsense.
As I listened to the Debate on this very big question, I felt like Alice in Wonderland. I have heard hon. Members talking about the dreadful panic there will 113 be when the bombing squadrons come over, but when I consider the Bill and the precautions that are to be taken, I feel that it is simply lunacy for anyone to believe that the provisions made under this Bill will provide any real safeguard for the bulk of the people in this country in the event of another great war. Consider, for instance, the arrangements that are to be made concerning the precautions against incendiary bombs. Each citizen is to be provided with a bucket, with sand, with a hand pump and a shovel. Possibly the Government may be able to make a saving here, for in many homes there will be the pail and spade that the little boy or girl had when last down at the sands. The proposals that the Government are making in this connection are just as ridiculous as would be the issuing of instructions that all children's pails used during the holiday period should in future be carefully preserved in order to deal with the danger of fire arising from incendiary bombs. It is illusory to think that protection can be provided in this way; that if an incendiary bomb is dropped somewhere and fire results, the precautions warden can send a message for Johnny Smith to come along with his pail of sand and shovel and put out the fire. That is playing with the question.
The Home Secretary also said there was a school of thought in this country which held that these precautions would be ineffective but, he said, it was not in accordance with British character or British tradition to be inert and passive in such circumstances as those contemplated by the Bill. He said that in the last War, as a result of action by the naval authorities, and various other people, we were ultimately able to overcome the submarine menace. If I recollect aright the memoirs of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), he states that the naval authorities were against the measures which ultimately made the submarine menace less dangerous, and the right hon. Gentleman at that time had to fight against the opposition of the naval authorities. When I heard the right hon. Gentleman telling us that the submarine menace was practically a thing of the past, and was no longer a problem, I thought of the speech which he made not from the Treasury Bench 114 but from the benches below the Gangway opposite after his resignation from the office of Foreign Secretary. Then, he spoke of the pitiable position of this country during the Italo-Abyssinian war when Great Britain had to alter her whole policy because of the fear of the Italian submarines. When I thought of that speech it seemed to me that the right hon. Gentleman was speaking with a new voice now that he has returned to the Treasury Bench.
It has been suggested that an aeroplane coming over here to attack this country would carry only one of three type of bomb—either high explosive bombs, gas bombs, or incendiary bombs. I do not know much about military affairs or about air bombing, but it appears to me that such aeroplanes would probably carry bombs of all three types. I observe an hon. Member opposite shake his head. He seems to think it is not possible for one aeroplane to carry more than one type of bomb, but I would not like to trust the hon. Member's military knowledge. It seems most probable that bombs of all three types will be carried by attacking aeroplanes. But I wish hon. Members to face the question of whether any adequate protection will be given by the machinery which is to be created under this Bill. What the Government are trying to do is plain. They are trying to create a feeling of confidence in the minds of the people before war comes. The know there is a feeling of horror among millions of people at present at the very possibility of war. Consequently they say, "Once we have got the Air-Raid Precautions Bill passed, once that we have created this machinery, we will have made the country safe against many of the horrors involved in air raids. We will have given the people real protection, and as a result of our action they will be comparatively safe." Thus the Government think that they will be able to allay the feeling among the people of the country who are wholly opposed to the policy of the National Government and to the possibility of war. I wish to ask a question concerning gas-masks. I have here a book written by Sir Malcolm Campbell, entitled "The Peril from the Air," in which he says:There is a form of gas-mask known as the 'box respirator,' which, incidentally, is expensive to produce. It is the one kind of 115 mask which really does afford complete protection against all forms of gas poisoning through the eyes or the respiratory passages. I believe it is not possible to make one of these masks singly for less than£4 15s., though, produced in the numbers that they were during the War, they would obviously cost a good deal less.I wish to ask the Under-Secretary what is the cost of the gas-mask now being produced? From the amount of expenditure contemplated in the Bill it does not seem that the type to be supplied is a very expensive one. Is it as efficient as the mask referred to by Sir Malcolm Campbell? Will it give complete protection against all forms of gas poisoning through the eyes and the respiratory passages? I would like more information about these gas-masks. We have been told that millions of them have been produced. One hon. Member suggested that a lot of people were producing masks at the present time and that there should be a Government stamp upon those that are considered efficient in order that the people of the country may not be "taken in." I wonder whether the people are not going to be "taken in" by the millions of masks which the Government are providing under this Bill. I would like to know more about the cost and about the extent of the protection provided against chlorine gas, mustard gas and the other types of gas which may be looked for in the circumstances that have been indicated.
While I ask that question I am convinced, at the same time, that the protection which will be afforded by this machinery is largely an illusion. Some hon. Members opposite got into a state of excitement about the question of the evacuation of the population of the East End of London in a time of national tension and as a possible precedent of war. As I listened to them, I wondered whether the idea was that the population of the East End of London should, when things looked bad in the international sphere, be taken away to South Wales; then, if the Foreign Secretary made one of his speeches and the international situation improved and the tension was relieved, they could take omnibuses back to the East End from South Wales. [Interruption.] An hon. Member on the Labour benches suggests that I should ask the Minister of Labour how it will be done, because the Minister of Labour has 116 moved a lot of people from South Wales to London and vice versa. But in this case it is the whole population of the East End, numbering millions, which is to be moved. I think evacuation as a policy is largely impossible. But there is something which might be done in the case of London when a period of tension occurs. The masses from the East End might march up to the West End. If Judy of the East End gets into close touch with Judy of Mayfair then I think she will get a certain amount of protection. If she gets alongside her rich and aristocratic fellow-citizen, she will get ll the protection the Government are able to give, but that will not be very much when all has been said and done.
I believe that the real answer on this question of air-raid precautions is that the Government should set out on a peace policy and take the necessary steps to lead the nations of the world into a realisation of the. fact that another great war will cause the complete breakdown of civilisation. But that means that the Government itself will have to become civilised. Instead of embarking on a policy of spending hundreds of millions on instruments of death, it will have to embark on a policy of providing for the social needs of the people. The hon. Member who spoke last admitted that these proposals would mean a limitation of expenditure on social progress but, he said, this question came first. That will be a lot of consolation to the people of the East End of Glasgow whom I represent. I have been urging the Government to take precautions against the perils which threaten those people now. This Bill contemplates an invasion by bombers from other countries. In the constituency which I represent there are hundreds, aye, thousands of houses which are already invaded by rats and bugs, and I can get nothing done by the Government for the protection of the people in those houses against those invaders.
Then I come to all the talk about this machine which is to be set up, that the Government will get the local authorities to carry out schemes and that they will provide shelters for them in certain places. Just as you have not provided shelter for the working class in my division for carrying on their ordinary business, I do not 117 believe in the shelter that you will provide for them under this Air-Raid Precautions Bill. It is an attempt that is being made to create confidence in the minds of the British people that they will have some real protection against air raids when war comes, but there will be very little protection indeed, and I hope that the people of this country, filled with horror at the thought of war, will insist that the British Government shall not be allowed to lead them into war and that the Government shall get into touch with the workers in other countries, to let all the Governments of the world understand that under no consideration are the millions of workers in the various countries to be used in a war, to be the dupes of a decadent Imperialism in the way that things are going on now.
There is no real protection in the Bill. It is a Bill to set up machinery that will only be as big an illusion as the League of Nations has proved to be as an instrument of peace. I hope the workers will realise that they will get just as little from this Bill as they can get from the pails and spades that their children play with on the sands. It is shameful that the Government should seek to delude the people of this country in this way on this great matter with regard to the perils of the future, and I hope the people will let the Government understand that they are not going to be deluded and that they will insist on a policy of peace.
§ 8.17 p.m.
§ Sir M. Sueter
I do not agree with the hon. Member who has just sat down that the Government are deluding the people of this country. I think this is a very good Bill and a Bill which is overdue, but the advantage which we have had by waiting a little is that we have a Home Secretary in charge of the Bill who is able to press all these matters on the public. He is a trained airman, and we know that he will be able to guide the local authorities very well indeed. I have had several letters from my constituency, and the writers are all very anxious about the id. rate. Is the id. rate going to be the limit, or if it is more than that, will 2d. be the limit, or will it be 1½d.? I should like the Under-Secretary of State to answer those questions, because the local authorities are very anxious about that matter.
118 Further, the local authorities seem not to have very much guidance in regard to these air-raid precautions, and I submit that, with our knowledge from what has happened in the Great War, in the Italo-Abyssinian campaign, the Spanish Civil War, and the Japanese-Chinese War, we should be able to give more guidance to the local authorities. I happened to meet a man the other day straight back from Shanghai, and he told me that two bombs that were dropped destroyed a whole block of buildings and killed 1,000 people. That shows the danger of having a large number of people in one building. We have heard a good deal about thermite bombs being dropped in very large numbers from aircraft, and no doubt they will drop explosive and thermite bombs. Are the local authorities to have the whole of this new fire-brigade plant, which it will be, and the extra hose, new pressure hydrants, and all that sort of thing, provided out of Exchequer funds, or will they have to meet a certain amount of that expenditure themselves?
We heard the hon. Member for North Islington (Dr. Guest), whom we are glad to see back in this House contributing to our deliberations, talking a good deal about mustard gas. I have not much knowledge of mustard gas, but I recollect that when we carried out the first experiments in submarines, we often used to have to pass four or five men up from the interior of the submarine suffering from carbon-monoxide poisoning. The exhaust gases from the petrol engines percolated through the joints and contained carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. Often the carbon monoxide is as high as 3 per cent. in these exhaust gases. This is a very dangerous gas, and we used to have to pass those men up from the after-part of the submarine, but in the fore-part the crew were not affected, because we had the draught at the conning-tower hatch. It was the same when we had chlorine gas poisoning in submarines through the salt water getting on to the electric batteries. The salt water was decomposed, and the chlorine was given off. It was a dreadful gas, because it made us cough very much, and it turned all the brass fittings in the submarine green, so that one can imagine what one's lungs were like.
I would ask the Tinder-Secretary of State whether, when he issues these regulations about gas-proof rooms, explosives 119 shelters, and so on, he will stipulate that not a large number of people should be in them. When you erect these new buildings and have these gas-proof rooms and other shelters, I think you ought to limit the number in each of them to something like 50, and not have hundreds of people in them, otherwise you might have a very big disaster. You can easily go into this and lay it clown that these rooms shall be sub-divided. The hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) referred to some Cambridge chemists who had carried out experiments and had criticised the Government's regulations with regard to gas masks and these gas-proof rooms. I heard one of those Cambridge assistants, one of their scientists—I think he called himself one of the technical scientists at the laboratory in Cambridge—and I was not carried away very much by the amount of experiments which they had undertaken. They had carried out a few experiments with carbon dioxide gas, and it seemed to me that they were very preliminary experiments altogether. I would ask the Cambridge scientists whether they could not work with the Government scientists instead of criticising them and if they find out any fault
§ Mr. Silverman
Is the hon. and gallant Member aware that these gentlemen offered to co-operate and to place the results of their investigations before Home Office experts, but that their offer was refused?
§ Sir M. Sueter
I thought they had issued a book attacking the Government, as far as I remember, and criticising the masks and also these gas-proof rooms. I have heard Cambridge scientists, and, as I say, they seemed to me to have carried out only very preliminary experiments, almost the same as what we did in the Great War when poison gas was first introduced by our enemy. We carried out gas experiments at Grain Island. They were very rough experiments, carried out on sheep. Some of the sheep were not at all perturbed by poison gases when we first got near them, but others, of course, were knocked out fairly quickly. Those were only preliminary experiments, and it seems to me that they were very much the same as these Cambridge scientists have carried out, but I think they ought to work more with our Government scientists and try to be not 120 so destructive in their criticism but, a little more creative.
There are one or two other points to which I would like to refer. When any private person puts up a gas-proof or bomb-proof shelter, is he going to be reimbursed out of Exchequer funds? Will Exchequer funds be used to help him in his capital outlay? When any private person has put up one of these shelters from bombs, or gas-proof shelters, will his assessment be increased by the local authority, or will his Schedule A be increased? This will be capital expenditure, and considerations of this kind give great concern to many people who might be large-minded and put up such shelters in different parts of the country. I hope that the Under-Secretary will give me answers on these points when he replies.
We have had a great deal of talk about evacuation. It should be organised so that we can evacuate into country areas the women and children and those who are out of employment in our large cities. We could put them into country houses, schools and perhaps churches. Let us have a proper policy worked out so that we can evacuate the children and elderly people as quickly as possible and leave to carry on their normal work all those people who are in employment. If we worked out something like that we might possibly evacuate a larger number of people very quickly indeed in a time of emergency.
The only other point is that I want to know the Government's policy with regard to canals. Canals might be damaged and the water overflow. Who will be responsible in that case, the canal authority or the local authority? With regard to docks, those of great size may come under several local authorities. You need skilled people in charge of docks, some, one who understands all dock work. Are those docks to come under the local authority or under several authorities? That ought to be laid down. Similar questions could be asked with regard to railways. Will the Home Office introduce a separate Bill to deal with those services? I should like the Under-Secretary of State to be kind enough to reply to these questions about canals, docks and railways.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Mr. C. Wilson
Underlying the Home Secretary's speech there was a very 121 serious note which we ought to bear continually in mind. Regret has been expressed that this sort of precaution is necessary, but there is something else which we may regret much more, and which is quite as serious as anything else, that is, that it should be necessary for us to be considering precautions which we know cannot be wholly effective in a very large number of cases. When we are pretending, as I think we are, that they can be effective, we are doing something very much in the direction of deceiving the people, and we have no right to do that. I might easily point out the great many difficulties that are revealed in official documents and by medical opinion in regard to this matter, but that does not carry us very far. It is clear from what has been said here to-day on both sides that we recognise that there is a position which seems almost hopeless. No other way is seen than this vast expenditure and the various methods that are suggested.
Since this matter was first brought into use we have had examples in Spain and in China, on a miniature scale, of what would happen. The whole world has been horrified that anything of this kind should be possible in these days, but it is not sufficient that we should be horrified. This House has a very much higher duty than merely to pass resolutions in regard to expensive measures which we know cannot be effective, and would be only deceiving the people. I am sure that no hon. Member desires that bombs should be used by us, with all the terrible destruction that they mean, not only at the time, but subsequently. in the Home Secretary we have a man who has recently been concerned in a new method of dealing with a very difficult problem which has been facing the country for many years in the treatment of the criminal and in penal methods. We all highly appreciate what he is doing in that direction. He has given a lead of which we can very heartily approve. I want to ask him in all seriousness to consider whether it is not possible for the Government of Great Britain, either through the League of Nations or otherwise, to call attention to what has happened in Spain and in China, and to see whether some move can he made towards the abolition of air warfare.
I am aware that that suggestion might be interpreted by some people as a sign 122 of weakness, but the great majority of people, not only in our own country, but in every country of the world, have but one desire—that this terrible method of warfare should not continue. In consequence of the horror which has been expressed there might be an opportunity for a real appeal to humanity. I venture to suggest that nothing would so enhance the reputation of this country throughout the world as some such effort, even though it might be looked upon as being almost certain of failure. If the effort had been made, it would show that we and people in all countries desire an end of this form of warfare.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Anstruther-Gray
The hon. Member for Attercliffe (Mr. C. Wilson) is inclined to take a pessimistic view of the efficacy of this Bill as a measure of precaution, and it is impossible to say with certainty that he is not right; but I think it is equally possible to take a much more optimistic view, and that is the one I prefer. The only thing I can say with complete certainty, following his closing remarks, is that both he and I will be in agreement in hoping that our points of view will never be put to the test. Much of this Debate has been concentrated upon the question of who should bear the cost. Personally, I am much more concerned with the efficacy of the measure than about how the cost should be apportioned, but I am not one of those people who ignore the question of costs, because I do appreciate the importance of economy to-day. I do not think any of us can have it too much in our minds that nothing is more vital to our whole defence programme than the financial soundness of this country, and for that reason I support the Government's proposal that local authorities should bear a small proportion of the cost. I believe that is the best way to ensure economy. If it is only going to amount, as my right hon. Friend hopes, to a penny on the rates, I do not think that is excessive, but I am prepared to admit the force of the plea put forward by hon. Members opposite, and also by the Association of County Councils of Scotland, that some high limit should be fixed. Since I have heard the Home Secretary's speech, however, I think his assurance that if the expense is greater than a penny in the pound he will be prepared to meet 123 the local authorities to discuss the question once again should be sufficient satisfaction for the time being.
It is not only for economy that I believe it is right that the local authorities should bear some proportion of the cost. There is a military maxim that every unit is at all times responsible for its own protection, and I think that is not inapplicable in this case. Although a small unit has not got the wherewithal to guarantee its safety, I think it should be responsible for doing whatever it can and for making a financial contribution towards it. Against this I would say that I hope that the admirable principle, which is so often forgotten nowadays, that he who pays the piper has a right to call the tune, will be observed, and that the Home Secretary will not be afraid of seeing that these precautions are directed largely by himself. Of course I appreciate the arguments he put forward for vesting the duty in local authorities. So many of those duties are already performed by local authorities—public order, decontamination, fire precautions, sanitation, lighting, etc.—that obviously it would be unwise to set up parallel Government administration of those same services; but I was very much attracted by the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys) that the appointment of a director-general of air-raid precautions in the person of some prominent man, preferably, I agree, not a politician, would be a step in the right direction.
The principal point I should like to put to my right hon. Friend concerns manpower. There is nothing in this Bill to say who it is proposed to recruit for these duties of air-raid wardens, auxiliary firemen, decontamination squads and first-aid detachments. Nor have I seen it estimated how many people will be required. I am anxious about how this will affect recruiting for the other Services, and particularly for the Territorial Army, because we must all remember that the thought that a man is doing his bit has a great deal to do with his joining the Territorials. I know that the£5 bounty and the club spirit may have something to do with it too, but for all that people do like to feel that they are doing their bit, and here we provide men with an alternative way of satisfying their conscience. A man may now satisfy his conscience that he is doing his bit to keep 124 his country safe by merely undertaking to do some possibly not very important air-raid precaution work instead of joining up as a Territorial to face whatever service may be asked of him in an emergency.
I should like my right hon. Friend to make it clear that only older men are wanted as air-raid wardens. Personally, I should like to see it definitely laid down that no local scheme will be approved unless it is quite clear that nobody below the age of, say, 35, is to be recruited as an air-raid warden, with the exception of key-men, whom it is not in the national interest to allow to leave the country; but even with this limitation key-men might well be more usefully occupied in one of the anti-air-raid searchlight units of the Territorial Army. I think that in the matter of air wardens the question of age is no bar, and it should be quite easy to give that assurance. In the case of auxiliary firemen the question is far more difficult. Obviously young and active men are needed as auxiliary firemen, and these are exactly the men we want as Territorials. I should like to know what the Government think about this, and what they are going to urge the young citizen who is anxious to do his bit to do. Personally I should like young men to join the Territorials in preference to becoming auxiliary firemen or air wardens because we are 40,000 short in the Territorials, and I believe that to have the Territorials up to strength is one of the most vital links in our defence system.
Of course I have devoted only a few hours to this problem of man-power, whereas the Government, or the Committee of Imperial Defence, or whoever it may be, must have been thinking this out for months and for years, and I would ask my right hon. Friend, therefore, what advice the Government are going to live the nation as a result of their deliberations on the man-power problem. I see opposite the hon. Member for North Islington (Dr. Guest), who in a most interesting speech raised this question. He said that for every roo,000 persons in large towns 50 persons would be required in anti-air raid work for some purpose or other. That worked out at a total of 165,000 males and females in towns of only 50,000 population and over, taking no account of smaller places and villages.
125 It would be a very large drain upon the man-power of the country. What I am really asking the Government is to give us a deal; to lay down the principle of how they think men can best serve:their country; not just to leave it to the young men to decide what they would like to do, but to say that first must come the Regular Services; secondly, the Territorials; third, the auxiliary firemen, and fourth and last—and a very long way behind for young men—the special constables and air-raid wardens.
There is another point concerning duplication in the recruiting for these services. I probably ought to know—I may be bound—because I am a Regular Army Reserve officer. I do not know whether I am free to join in any air defence scheme. If I am, I would like: to ask the Home Secretary whether he thinks that would be right. I do not imagine that it would be, for in an emergency one would be called back to the Colours, and that would merely create a vacancy in the air defence unit just when it was least desirable. How do the Territorial and Regular forces stand in relation to that? Perhaps my hon. Friend who replies can give us a ruling on that point. I think that, on the whole, this Debate has shown to a wonderful extent how much we are agreed that Defence is a duty in which we should all play our part, if need be, but I submit that in order to obtain the optimum result, we should not merely play the part which suits our fancy or our convenience, but the part to which our age and our training and occupation have best suited us. The Government should lay down a guiding principle in this matter. If they do so, I feel that the call of patriotism will give them volunteers not only in an emergency, which it has always done before, but before the emergency arises. If it does, it is well worth hoping, if not praying, that our very preparedness will prevent that emergency from ever overtaking us.
§ 8.47 p.m
§ Mr. Ede
I want to support most wholeheartedly the Amendment that was moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Hackney Mr. H. Morrison). I have had from time to time, as a member of two local authorities, to give a considerable amount of time and thought to the exact way in which this scheme can be best worked 126 out, and, frankly, I think that the Government are wrong in leaving any initiative to the local authorities. I have tried to envisage from my experiences during the late War exactly what will happen if we are in danger of having an air raid. I am bound to say that I cannot dismiss the first problem, that is, the problem of the evacuation of the big cities, in the airy way in which it has been dismissed by certain supporters of the Government. I heard a speech by the hon. Member for Mitcham (Sir R. Meller), who succeeded me after a temporary period of lucidity in the political history of that division, and I should say from my knowledge of that place that it would be one of the first to be faced with this particular difficulty.
The Noble Lord the right hon. Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer) said that during the first few days of international tension all the transport facilities would be required for mobilisation, but have the Government considered the extent to which the mobilisation would be impeded by a flight of the people from the great cities? We have never before had the general population of the country so well equipped for ma king such a flight. Think of the number of small car owners who live in the inner ring of the London suburbs. When you get towards the outer suburbs, as the Leader of the Opposition said last Session, you reach a stage when most of the dwelling houses now really consist of garages for small cars with a few living rooms attached. During the time of the last War—I suppose we ought to call it the latest war—we had not that problem confronting us. The proportion of small car owners to the population was very small compared with the proportion to-day. Imagine the news coming to one of the suburbs that this long heralded air attack might be expected within the next two or three days—and the more one talks, as the Noble Lord did, about the air raid coming before the declaration of war, the more one is creating an atmosphere of panic among these people. Mrs. Smith notices that Mr. Jones has taken Mrs. Jones and the younger Jones off by car, and she says to Mr. Smith, "Why are you leaving me and our children here? "They will all be making tracks for the open country.
The roads leading out from South London are not even adequate to deal with the Derby day traffic. I speak as one who 127 has lived on the Derby route all my life, and I say that you cannot evacuate the population to Epsom Downs with comfort or evacuate them from Epsom Downs with comfort, although a number of them still pull up at all the hostelries at which the horses used to stop by instinct. There will be no such opportunities as that for sorting out the traffic. Has anyone thought clearly of the traffic problem that will arise when we get to the moment of international tension, as it was called early in the Debate, when these people will begin to think that the open country of Leith Hill and districts such as that 20 to 25 miles out of London are safer places, all things considered, than the crowded streets of London and its suburbs? That will be one of the problems which, if this emergency ever arises, will have to receive the earliest and most active thought and action on the part of the Government. I have heard nothing in the Debate or in all the discussions with the local authorities to indicate that that particular phase of the subject has ever received serious attention.
It is not merely a question of London. The Tyneside would be similarly affected. Those great towns along the River Tyne, the River Wear and the River Tees, with the best guide in the world for aircraft—a river—indicating to them the route they should travel, will be similarly faced with this problem of evacuation. I should have thought it would have been desirable in introducing the Bill this afternoon for the right hon. Gentleman to say something about the attitude of the Government towards that phase of the problem. I have also tried to envisage what would happen if an air raid came. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman expected us to take him seriously when he talked this afternoon about a mobile fire-engine running round the district every 10 minutes or quarter of an hour as if it were a number 70 'bus. Can one imagine what will happen if a district is hit by one of these raids on the scale that we have been led to expect?
I believe that the right hon. Gentleman was recently in Southampton when one of those black-outs occurred. An officer of one of the local authorities with which I am connected was there also, and he told me that at the review next morning, 128 when people were going through it and listening to the umpires decide who had been knocked out and who had not—and some were surprised to find themselves alive—three young ladies walked in. They had been marked as wounded, tied up and left by the side of a wall for somebody to pick up. But the persons who had been told to pick them up lost their way—[Interruption]—I am sure that that is nothing against the young ladies; I was told that they were really the most attractive young ladies in Southampton—and they sat, so I was informed, against this wall, unable to extricate themselves from the first-aid bandages that had been applied to them, from i a.m. until 7 a.m., when at last someone came along and released them. If that is what happens when people have only been put out of action on the word of an umpire, imagine what is going to happen if there is a really heavy aerial bombardment, and the streets and traffic communications of a town are reduced to a state of chaos.
My own belief is that, if any district has a bad raid, the air-raid precautions scheme for that area will go up in the first five minutes as though it had never existed. The bombs, the bullets, and whatever else may be the weapons employed by the enemy, will not miss the people who have been appointed air-raid wardens, members of the decontamination squads, and others. I have always advised people, at the conferences over which I have had to preside, that they must be ready, in the event of an air raid, to move off immediately, if their district escapes being hit, to the district which has been hit to which they are nearest. We all know the difficulty of carrying out such an operation as that if you have local schemes financed, at any rate in part, from the locality. Think of the tremendous difficulty of getting an agreement whereby a fire brigade or an ambulance shall go across a county district boundary from one urban district into the next. We all of us know the kind of issue that is raised when one district has given an order that its fire brigade or its ambulance is not to go out of its area into the next until a guarantee has been received from the district into which it is going that the cost shall be recoverable. I venture to suggest that I have painted a not unfair picture of what is likely to happen in the state of chaos 129 that will be produced in a district that is hit.
I believe that these schemes should be Government schemes under Government control—that they should use the local government instruments and machinery where these are applicable, but that, in the event of a national emergency arising, some national commander, some commander appointed by the nation for a fairly wide area, should take control, and that local responsibility and all the local limits should at once be abolished. In the neighbourhood of London, or of Tyneside and similar over-populated areas, all the local government boundaries are entirely artificial. How many people know where the boundary of the administrative county of London is? How many can point to the boundary between, say, Lambeth and Wandsworth? As you get farther out, where local government boundaries have just been submerged in the flood of new houses, how many, even of the inhabitants, know in which district they live, and to whom they are to look for many of these services? The whole trend of modern development is in favour of making this a national service, paid for by the nation and controlled by the nation.
I am not concerned with the right hon. Gentleman's analogy of the Addison housing scheme. He gave us a very incomplete picture of that, and I should probably be very much out of order if I attempted to fill in the points that he did riot fill in. I recollect being asked, as chairman of an urban district council, to call the builders of my district together. They had not managed to form a ring up to that time, and I gathered that the view of the Government was that it would be a good thing if I got them together so that I could point out to them their business shortcomings in the matter. It was not so much the limit of a 1d. rate—because let it be remembered that every scheme had to be approved by the Minister of Health before we could enter into the contract—it was not so much the limit of a 1d. rate, as the fact that the Government declined to allow the present Lord Addison to have the power to control prices, for which he had asked when he originated his scheme, that led to the result which followed.
I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that, if the Government really believe 130 that this problem is as great and as urgent as they represent it to be, it is a matter of national and not of local concern. I cannot understand why it should be said that the localities ought to share any of this expenditure. Were Scarborough, and West Hartlepool, and the other places which suffered from the tip-and-run raids in the late War, expected to shoulder the expense of their own defence? Where is the difference between a bombardment of the coast from the sea and a bombardment of the land from the air? I cannot see that any new principle is involved at all. We are almost getting back to the days when each seaport was expected to provide so many men-of-war for His Majesty's Fleet when a naval war was contemplated; and I suppose we shall very soon get to the position of the Danegeld, and it will be suggested that perhaps some of the richer localities might provide a piece of plate or something else for the European dictator who might be expected to bombard us, in the hope that that will persuade him not to, come. It seems to me that, of all the ways to split the nation in the face of an emergency, the line proposed by the Government is the most likely to effect that result.
I sincerely hope that His Majesty's Government will, even at this late hour, re-consider the attitude they are adopting towards the local authorities, and will realise that, for a matter of this national concern, they should not merely find the money, but should assume control, and should assure us that, in the event of the emergency arising, they will take control and see that such forces as are available are not available for a locality, but are available for those parts of the country that are most urgently in need of them. Therefore, I hope very strongly that the Amendment moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Hackney will be carried.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ Major Sir Ralph Glyn
The House always listens with great interest to any remarks made by the hon. Gentleman opposite with regard to local government, because he has had great experience and his administration has always been successful. But I wonder very much what sort of speech he would have made if my right hon. Friend the Home Sceretary had come down and suggested that 131 the Government should take over the local government services and run them as a national service, without the local authorities having any say at all. I think we should then have heard from the hon. Gentleman that it was a gross interference with the rights of local authorities. He stressed the question of boundaries, but I can find nothing in the Bill which says that the local authorities are going to act in a time of emergency as if it were a time of peace. I am quite certain that the common sense of local authorities co-operating with one another will see to it that those boundaries-1 quite agree that very few people know where they are—are overcome, and that every force which local government possesses and which can be reinforced and improved by the Government will be used to provide a service which, while it will not make the country immune from the devastation of a bombardment, it is the first duty of the Government and of local government to provide. The Home Secretary said that the position of public utilities will form the subject of further Debate—I gather, when present schemes have gone a little further. I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken that the advent of the small car is going to produce a situation of traffic congestion which will make it extremely difficult for troop movements to take place, but knowing a little of what has been done by the Air-Raid Precautions Department, and their association with the police, I am sure that it has been considered.
§ Sir R. Glyn
They cannot say everything they have done. For two years it has been necessary to make very intricate inquiries in order to face a situation which has never yet confronted us. There is one thing I would like to mention in regard to the railway situation. I do not know how many hon. Members have been to Blackpool when the illuminations have been on. If they saw that crowd they would appreciate that this light and airy talk about evacuation will require modification. The Home Secretary said that the best thing would be for people to go to their houses. I feel that if you are going to allow the public to think they can get away from a centre which they think dangerous, you 132 are not going to help women and children, and you will only add the danger of panic, and the danger that results from unthoughtful flight, to the others. The real purpose of this Debate is to give the public an impression of what are the dangers, and I think this Bill shows the line on which public confidence can be established.
We heard a speech from the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen), who said that dust was being thrown into the eyes of people to make them think that in the next war they would not suffer. I do not go so far as that. But in the next war, if there is one, the people at home will be in the front line. There is anxiety in the country about this, and I cannot think it is right to hold up this Bill. The offer made by the Home Secretary that a time limit should be put to it and that the whole question should be reconsidered is eminently fair. It is frightfully difficult to assess what the cost would be, and I am sure that when the Bill is passed there will be that co-operation of the local authorities which will provide experience to show quite definitely whether the calculations are right or wrong. I am quite sure that the work done by the Air-Raid Precautions Department has been quite as successful, though less showy than the work done in other countries. Suggestions have been made that there should be a director-general. I am sure no work would be more successful than the work done in an unobtrusive way by the Air-Raid Precautions Department of the Home Office. The House should be grateful to those officials for the work they have done with great tact and consideration.
Whilst the Home Secretary said it was the duty of every person who had a home to do something for the protection of his family, there is one question which he should give guidance on and that is the duty of employers of labour in large factories. There is a distinct obligation on them. I know of one particular instance, and I have no doubt there are others, where a firm was consulted as to what would be the cost of accommodation for the workpeople in a factory where over 2,000 men and women are employed. Plans were got out, because, owing to the extension of this factory in the ordinary way of expansion of business, it was considered best to use the cellars, where there was accommodation for 50 133 per cent. of the workpeople at one end of the factory and 50 per cent. at the other. There is a slight danger in this, because, if everybody who is trying to do this sends suggestions to the Air-Raid Precautions Department, they will be snowed under. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should consider setting up a panel of architects and others conversant with the work of the Department, so that it would be possible to show whether a particular plan submitted by a firm is right or wrong. In this particular case, the company got into touch with a firm specialising in this sort of thing, and they said it would be necessary to put a pump into the cellar so that the pressure inside should be greater than the pressure outside. That meant that a very expensive pumping plant had to be put in, and the cost works out at 1.4 per head of the people employed. It means that using such accommodation takes away the use of that part of the premises for storage or other purposes, and I am wondering whether the Home Secretary might consider, by way of encouraging people who have, I think, a direct responsibility to their workpeople, some reduction in rates, or something of the sort. It seems to be wrong that in an air raid you should have to tell all your work-people to turn out and scuttle home.
§ Sir R. Glyn
No, the£4 would mean only the cost of the pumping plant and actual machinery. I suggest that there ought to be a check on the expenditure by firms in this direction, to see whether all the work is necessary or not. Such expenditure would make it almost prohibitive for small firms to carry out such schemes. Every hon. Member would agree that in the Government factories, where you have skilled men, required as key men in the event of an emergency, there is a moral obligation that proper accommodation should be provided in case of an attack. I hope that my right hon. Friend will, if for no other reason, set up some organisation which will relieve his own special Department at the Home Office of what must be an enormous number of inquiries upon a very technical matter.
This Debate has shown very largely that this is a psychological question. I 134 know that in my constituency, where there are several aerodromes and depots of various kinds, everybody who lives near an aerodrome or depot at once assumes that any enemy must concentrate all their bombs on that particular place. It is a natural feeling, and it means that, if a Government Department selects a rural district for the accommodation of a depot, aerodrome cr store of that kind, the people in the area, where a 1d. rate may bring in only £100or £200, are most concerned about the scheme. As they have had no say at all in the siting of these places a great deal of good could be done if the Home Secretary could arrange for such publicity as is possible—I do not say that it would be much—to allay the fears of people who honestly think that because a small store has been put up near their village a possible enemy would ignore London Docks and everything else and make a bee-line to this place and bomb it. Something should be done, without betraying official matter, to allay anxiety, which is very often needlessly aroused.
There is another point concerning local districts in rural areas. If people feel that there are to be large numbers of people evacuated into their areas from the towns, especially if they are towns situated either by the side of a railway or a river which forms a very easy line of approach, and can be picked out in any circumstances by enemy aircraft, it is surely necessary to gel the small boroughs—which after all have the responsibility but have not the executive power, which is usually vested in the county council—to collaborate with the county council and to have definite assurances from the Government that they will have special assistance. I have in mind one or two small boroughs which are perhaps rather vulnerable, as they are situated on the Thames and there are depots quite close to them. The people feel that they cannot possibly start the necessary defence on a id. or a 2d. rate. I hope that it may be possible either for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary or my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health to do something to assist these small boroughs, whose situation is particularly difficult, for there is undoubtedly a considerable amount of anxiety among their residents.
I received a similar circular to that received by every Member in the House, 135 and my reading of that circular was that the local authorities could not face the possibility of having thrown upon them expense which they could not afford, and I think that they were quite right in putting that matter forward. It is our duty—at least I conceive it to be mine—to do all we can to persuade the local authorities in the constituencies. The speech of the Home Secretary to-day makes it quite clear that he wants the good will and co-operation of the local authorities, that he has strained every nerve to get it, and that he thinks it is utterly impossible to go further, and that the whole matter will be reviewed within a definite time limit. As far as I know there is not one authority which does not appreciate the anxiety of its ratepayers that something should be done by the Government, and it would, therefore, welcome this Bill on such terms as these. This is a very serious matter; it is one of the most important that has ever come before this House. We can only be adequately and properly prepared for any emergency if we have behind us public opinion and that spirit of co-operation which has never been lacking in this country in times of emergency.
§ 9.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Bellenger
The hon. Member for North Lanarkshire (Mr. Anstruther-Gray) opened out a very interesting train of thought. He suggested that if this disaster eventually came upon us only those over 35 years of age should be accepted as volunteers for air-raid warnings and things like that. I take note of the fact that I should be eligible for the job, but before I heard my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) speak I felt that I should refuse any position like that, because I believe, as an hon. Member said from the other side of the House, that in the next war there will be no comparative freedom from danger, whether you be on the home front or in the front-line trenches. I think that the next war will follow quite different lines from the last War, and, therefore, I should imagine that those who volunteer for the so-called front-line, whether they be over 35 or not, will possibly be more immune from danger than those who are left to man the home front. At any rate my mind was changed after listening to my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields, who related the 136 experience of the black-out at Southampton. After listening to that I felt that perhaps I would, after all, volunteer for an air-raid warning job in the next crisis.
I only wish that I could view this problem with the same easy facility with which the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary spoke this afternoon. He gave us an outline of the enormity of the problem, and I do not think that we could disagree with him there. But we do disagree with him, and those of us particularly who had experience of the last War, which, as the right hon. Gentleman himself said, would be small in comparison with the next war, know that you cannot arrange these air-raid precaution matters in the same easy, and almost in the same magical way as did the right hon. Gentleman when he spoke this afternoon. Therefore, I view with considerable alarm the Government's dilatory policy, and every hon. Member who knows and has listened to the facts stated this afternoon, must agree that the Government have failed during the last two years. They have known of the enormity of this problem for two years, and it is only at this late hour that we are asked to pass some Bill to deal with it.
I wish to direct the main portion of my remarks to the subject of planning. I do not think that the Government are dealing with this matter on the proper lines. A question that I put to the Under-Secretary this afternoon gave me that indication. I asked him whether the Home Office gave any directions to local authorities as to the suitable persons to appoint as air-raid precaution officers and the salaries that they should be paid. The hon. Gentleman gave me the answer, "No." It is only tampering with the subject not to give directions to local authorities who are to administer this Measure as to whom they should appoint as their keymen in the local areas—the air-raid precautions officers. The right hon. Gentleman told us that there were 200,000 volunteers ready to take part in these air-raid precautions. I am pleased that there are so many who realise the seriousness of the situation. But I suggest that it is impossible, if we are to get effective air-raid precautions work done, to leave the direction, the co-ordination, the guidance and the control of all those volunteers to isolated local authorities up and down the country.
137 The right hon. Gentleman himself had some experience of staff work during the War, and he will know that this matter is not entirely a matter for the civil authorities. It has a great deal to do with military strategy and military and air defence. I make a suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman, and it perhaps endorses to a certain extent the suggestion made by the hon. Member for South Norwood (Mr. Sandys), although I would go even further than the appointment of a particular individual to co-ordinate and control all this air-raid precautions work. I would suggest that there ought to be a general staff dealing with this matter, composed of military experts, Air Force experts and experts of the civil authorities. I believe that only if you have such a staff as that can you deal with this vast number of men and women who are without any military discipline. They will require military discipline if they are to carry out these duties effectively in time of air raids. I believe that only by such a method will it be possible properly to train, equip and direct these people, if and when this disaster comes on us.
The right hon. Gentleman talked this afternoon as if there would be no possibility of panic among the civil population in time of air raids. Anybody who viewed the terrible scenes in the East End of London during the last War, when we had only minute air raids compared with what we shall get in the next war, will know that it will not be possible to control and direct these masses of people, who are not subject to the same discipline that military or Air Force training gives; it will not be possible to direct them in the steps which you want them to take. I think the Government themselves have neglected entirely this question of mass psychology, mob psychology. It is not too early to make a start in trying to train the public into the positions they will have to take up in air raids, let alone your air-raid wardens, decontaminators, and all the rest of them; and even those you are not training at the present time. You have not got the facilities to train them.
Several hon. Members went down to the Government school near Bristol and viewed the facilities which were being provided for training volunteers, who came from all parts of the country. Speaking of my own localities, I was told that they had had the names of two volunteers for 138 several months past, and not yet had they been told that there was a vacancy for these two men to go to the appropriate school to receive their training. I think that is sufficient evidence to show that the Government have been dilatory in this matter. It shows that even now, although the present Home Secretary has awakened to the urgency of it, they are not taking adequate steps to train the vast number of people who will have to be trained if we are going to get efficacy in time of actual air raids. Obviously London will have to be dealt with differently from the rest of the country, and I re-echo the request that has been made from different parts of the House to the Government that they will tell the public exactly what they expect from the public, what they want the public to do, because the public at the present time are quite ignorant. Perhaps there may be some truth in the saying that "Where ignorance is bliss 'tis folly to be wise." If people think about these things may be there will not be any war.
I would like to say to the right hon. Gentleman that I have some knowledge of the air-raid precautionary work that is being done in Germany, and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman—and he must know this—that we are miles behind in this country compared with Germany. It may be that Germany, having got the initiative in these matters, has taken forethought; but I do know that in Germany the heads of households have been told what their duties will be in air raids and not only the heads of households but the housewives; and the housewives have been through some gasses which I noticed hon. Members who went to the Government school at Bristol were so chary of experiencing.
§ Mr. Bellenger
It may be that they have a dictator in Germany; but the whole test is: Can democracy devise the same satisfactory air-raid precautions as dictators? And if we cannot I would suggest to the hon. and gallant Member that democracy has failed. After all, if we are going to have a war forced on us by dictators or other people, then, surely, we should take time and prepare for it and obviate many of the very inconvenient things which may happen to the population during that time. 139 On the question of cost I would put this point to the right hon. Gentleman. So far he has told the local authorities very little of the plans that the Government have in view. If only he will explain to the local authorities quite clearly what is expected of them then they may be able to estimate some of their liabilities; and possibly some of the controversy which has arisen between those local authorities and the Government would disappear. It is his own fault if he has been meeting with a certain amount of opposition to his proposals. He has not taken the local authorities entirely into his confidence as to what the Government desire of them. He talked of a id. rate being sufficient to provide these air-raid precautions. I have just looked at two metropolitan boroughs that are in the 75 per cent. group given in the Government's White Paper. Bethnal Green has a population roughly of 100,000 people. A rd. rate produces£2,020 gross, or roughly£2,000 net. How far does the right hon. Gentleman think that£2,000 will go, the produce of a 1d. rate, towards providing adequate facilities to protect a ioo,000 population? Or take the other metropolitan borough mentioned, Poplar, which has a population of 143,000. A rd. rate will produce£3,000 there. Can the right hon. Gentleman understand why it is that we are very doubtful of the assurances that he has given to the local authorities?
My right hon. Friend the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) who opened the Debate for the Opposition this afternoon said he was very chary of saying anything which might be considered at all critical of the Government; I think he used the word "offensive." I have no wish to be offensive. But I have no such inhibitions as my right hon. Friend. I say to the Government that their whole policy in this matter of air-raid precautions is open to the gravest criticism, and they cannot blame the Opposition if the Opposition say they have no trust in the Government in view of the Government's views in this particular matter of air-raid precautions. Although I do not suppose that hon. Members will support our Amendment to-night perhaps, at any rate, they might support the alternative which my right hon. Friend the Member for South Hackney has indicated to them, namely, the limitation of this 140 cost to a 2d. rate. I hope, before this Debate is closed, the right hon. Gentleman will give us a reply to that definite question or alternative put to the Government by my right hon. Friend.
§ 9.35 p.m.
§ Sir Gifford Fox
I should like to congratulate the Home Secretary on the great tact and skill that he showed in being able to come to some agreement with the local authorities as far as the financial arrangements are concerned. I, like other hon. Members, have had a number of circular letters from urban district councils and borough councils urging that the expenditure of local authorities should not exceed a 2d. rate. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has given us an assurance that he does not consider that the expenditure should exceed a id. rate, and that if it does exceed that amount he is prepared at a near date to consult with the local authorities again on the whole matter. It will be a very great mistake to say to the local authorities that if they spend more than a 2d. rate everything else will be paid for by the Government. That would lead to a vast waste of public money, and would do no good.
Listening to the speeches of hon. Members opposite I have been amazed at the way they blame the Home Secretary because we have not more air-raid precaution services in this country. They have only to look at what is happening in London. We have 18 Socialist boroughs where no steps have been taken to protect the civilian population. That seems a great indictment against the Soclialist party. They do riot mind what happens to British men, women and children. They are prepared to do nothing to protect them if any hostilities should arise and there should be an air raid against this great city.
The hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) described certain things that took place at the black-out in Southampton. I do not think that he was there. I was one of the hon. Members who went to that black-out and one could realise from that experience what complete chaos there would be in the event of an air raid if there were no air-raid precautions. We got into a omnibus, the lights were put out, all the street lights were darkened and special blue lights were substituted, and the headlights of the omnibus were 141 blue. It was impossible to see where one was going so far as the names of the streets were concerned. We could only see the tramlines in the middle of the road down which we were proceeding. it was very difficult for the driver of the omnibus even to see the kerb. That made one realise how very important it is that air-raid precautions should be dealt with by local people, and that the service should be run by the local authority. It is no good having an air-raid warden who lives in the north of London looking after the streets near this House. He would not know where the telephone was or where was situated the local civic headquarters to which he had to report what was happening.
Hon. Members opposite seemed to take this matter very lightly, but I can assure them that it is very important that we should take all necessary steps to protect our people. One aeroplane can carry several high explosive bombs which if they fall into a street can make craters 40 feet across and 10 to 20 feet deep. One aeroplane can carry hundreds of incendiary bombs and start many conflagrations. Then there are gas bombs which can do great damage. It is not even necessary for aeroplanes to drop gas bombs. They can spray gas from the skies, two or three miles away, and the gas can fall and people may not know that they are being contaminated by gas. How will people know whether the casualties are contaminated with gas? It is essential that people should be trained to know whether the casualties are gas casualties a well as having ordinary wounds.
We have heard of the enormou.s number of services that have to be provided. There are air-raid wardens, one or more for each street, de-contamination squads, wearing rubber clothing, who have to decontaminate streets which have been sprayed with mustard gas. Then there are rescue parties whose duty it is to help people out of houses that are falling down. There are the first-aid parties, fire brigades—and many will be necessary—and demolition parties for pulling down buildings that are dangerous. Gangs of men are required to repair the roads and keep open the essential roads, also men who are ready to repair electric supply and gas and water services. Let us imagine what the position would be if there was no organisation existing to deal with these things. What chaos there 142 would be if an air raid occurred, and the power-houses switched off electric current and put the city in darkness so that enemy aircraft would not know where they were. If there was no organisation, we can imagine what unnecessary loss of life there would be in the chaos and the darkness.
I should like to say a few words on the problem as it affects rural areas. Many local authorities say: "We do not need to take precautions, because nothing is likely to touch us. There will be no bombs or gas dropped on us. It is, however, very important that the local authorities in rural areas should take a certain amount of air-raid precautions. It does not matter whether bombs are dropped by enemy aircraft, with definite intention, on places they are attacking, or whether they drop them on the way home, in order to get rid of them. The effect will be the same whether they fell on a city or a village. There ought to be a certain amount of knowledge in rural areas with regard to gas precautions and other services that are necessary.
It is easy to put schemes on paper, but much more difficult to get the personnel recruited and trained, arid I would asked the Home Secretary what steps he proposes to take to bring these matters before the public and to get the public to volunteer to man these services. Are the Government prepared to launch a campaign to bring the matter home to the people and to make them understand how important it is that these services should be manned? Another question I should like to ask is, what sort of staff is the air-raid precautions officer to have? Is he to have a large-paid staff, or is it to be composed of voluntary workers? Another problem relates to the training of people in the gas school at Falfield, where a certain number go every fortnight for training. It is very difficult for some of these people when they have been trained to go out and lecture, especially in the rural areas, because they cannot afford the transport to the villages. This is particularly important in regard to such services as the Red Cross or St. John's Ambulance.
Again, it is necessary that the public should have a certain amount of knowledge how to use the gas-masks, and it is important that the Government should thoroughly assure the public that the gas-masks they are making are 100 per cent. 143 efficient. A certain body of young scientists have done their best to discredit the Government gas-masks. We have heard their criticisms, but they do not impress us. They have done a lot of harm in making the general public think that these gas-masks are not as good as they might be. They say that arsenical smoke will go through one of these gas-masks, but arsenical smoke is quite different from the gas which is used in war time, and I understand war gases do not go through any of these masks. The same scientists tried to ridicule the Government's idea of making rooms gas-proof, and they have produced some experiments which I am told are of no scientific use at all. They say that if you put gas into a room and it leaks out at a certain rate, then if you have poison gas outside a room it will leak into the room at the same rate. The fact is that gas will not go into a room at anything like the rate these scientists would have us believe. They are trying to discredit the Government's gas-masks and also their proposals for making rooms gas-proof; also certain people, whenever there is a black-out, proceed to distribute a lot of literature, trying to ridicule the whole scheme of air-raid precautions and stop the public co-operating. I hope the Government will be able to take steps to stop these people trying to prevent the public co-operating in an organised attempt to protect the public of this country against air raids.
§ Mr. James Griffiths
The hon. Member is making by innuendo inconsiderate charges against people who, he says, are doing their best to obstruct this work. He should not make charges of that kind unless he is prepared to name the people.
§ Sir G. Fox
I would name the 18 London Socialist boroughs as not taking steps to protect the public against air raids.
§ 9.48 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Taylor
I want to take part in this Debate because the Noble Lord the right hon. Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer) said that his constituents were in support of the Government's plan on the financial side of the proposals. Local authorities in my constituency are 144 altogether opposed to the plan, and thoroughly endorse the attitude taken by the right hon. Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison). I can hardly imagine that this House has ever listened to a more depressing Debate than the one to which we have listened to-day. We are discussing the end of civilisation. Some hon. Members, certainly the last hon. Member in a despicable speech, said that we on this side were treating the matter with levity. That is entirely untrue. When I look at the Government and think of the charges of delay made by the right hon. Member for South Hackney I am not astonished at the delay between 1935 and 1937. In 1935 the Home Secretary resigned over the Abyssinian business. In 1931 the Chancellor of the Exchequer was Foreign Secretary when Japan made her first raid into Manchuria. In 1934 we had a change about the means test arrangements. When I think of all the shuffling that has been going on among the Front Bench I am reminded of a football team which has no reserves, and which has to reshuffle its team instead of letting more efficient members in.
Listening to the Debate I think the case has been made out for the local authorities. No one can say with any certainty that the charge on local authorities will not exceeed a 1d. rate. How are they to do all the things which must be done to defend their people in the event of an air raid on a 1d. rate? It is a most reasonable proposition to say that anything above a 2d. rate should be the financial responsibility of the national Exchequer. I have spoken once or twice in support of the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) in trying to get a Bill through dealing with burning pit-heaps. If there is another war we shall, I suppose, in the case of an air raid have black-outs like we had at Southampton the other day. I want to ask the Government how they are going to black-out the burning pit-heaps in Northumberland and other parts of the country. At the moment some of them are miniature mountains. I saw one a week or two ago bursting out with a million tongues of flames. Newcastle, I suppose, will be a very important place in the case of another war. I suppose munitions are made there, and it is a very important port. I have said this before but you cannot tell the truth too often.
What is there to prevent an aeroplane even on the blackest night picking out 145 these burning pit heaps and taking its course from them? These air-raid precautions, in the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman, should not exceed a rd. rate. We have wanted these burning pit-heaps dealt with, but it has always been a question of expense. While it is necessary to have gas-proof chambers and shelters, one of the first essentials for the protection of the people is that there shall be no clear light which will guide the enemy and, therefore, I imagine the right hon. Gentleman will advise the county council of Northumberland and other places to deal with these burning pit-heaps. In that case the cost will come under air-raid precautions. If they have to be dealt with, then I submit that the cost will exceed the rd. rate which the right hon. Gentleman said he believed would be the limit of the expenditure.
I wish to ask a further question with reference to evacuation, which is a most important thing. In the larger towns, such as Newcastle, are the Government going to make a register of all motor cars? It would be very easy to do that, because I understand that at every General Election the Conservative party usually have a register of every Conservative motor car. Again, is the old British tradition of women and children first to be followed? If that old British tradition is to prevail, will the poor be allowed to go out of the cities before the rich? Otherwise the contention of my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) may be right, although it is a very lamentable thing for us to have to say. Many country houses are now being prepared for that emergency.
I wish to emphasise that the local authorities are not satisfied with the promises that have been made. They believe that in the case of this new service, the charge should be a national one, because once the schemes are in operation, they will go on extending until the financial burden will be outside the range of the local authorities altogether. It is nonsense to say that if the local authorities have only a id. or a 2d. rate to pay, their sense of responsibility will be lessened. Council houses are now more or less on the same basis, yet the local authorities are taking a vital interest in everything that appertains to the welfare both of the tenants and the property. I 146 believe it is outside the range of reasonableness to say that the local authorities would shed their responsibility to the extent that the financial responsibility was lessened.
Urban authorities are largely responsible at the moment for air-raid fire brigades, but Clause (2, b) of the Bill lays down that on the application of an urban district council, the Home Secretary may, after consultation with the county council, direct that an air-raids general precautions scheme shall be prepared by the urban district council. In that particular instance, therefore, it seems that the expense will far exceed a rd. or a 2d. rate. Let it be remembered that we are not now in a position to find money from the rates as we were able to do before the Conservative Government introduced derating. They have skinned us alive. I see that an hon. Member opposite is laughing, but this is no laugh ing matter. The Government thought that they could depend upon these small tradesmen in our towns, and the men and women who are trying to buy their own houses. This Bill will bear hardly on such people who, as the result of derating, will have to find the money. The small shopkeeper, and the struggling man and his wife who are trying to buy their own house, are the people who will have to bear this burden, and it is for these people that the Labour party are speaking.
§ 10 p.m.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
As I listened to the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, I recalled some words, which he has heard me quote before elsewhere, spoken by him 12 years ago. As Secretary of State for Air, he said that the more he saw of the possibilities of air warfare in the future, the more anxious he was to take every legitimate opportunity of making impossible developments which, if left to themselves, might destroy civilisation. I want to say at once that I believe that, as long as the right hon. Gentleman was Secretary of State for Air, he made every effort in his power to prevent that development, but alas! these developments of which he spoke have been left to themselves, or rather, more accurately, they have been pushed forward by the countless millions of pounds which our Government, and other Governments, have spent on research into increasing the destructiveness of air warfare. The result is that we find 147 ourselves taking part in this tragic Debate this afternoon.
As I listened to the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon, I remembered some words written not so long ago by a writer in a German military organ. He spoke of the emancipation of war as being the dominant event and characteristic of our time. He said that henceforth every citizen would be a State servant working directly for the purposes of war. War and its execution would make up the only content of existence. We have not got quite there, but we are going towards it. It is fearfully true that air warfare, as Lord Baldwin used to say so often, is a greater menace to civilisation than anything in the military history of mankind.
I wish to start, as the Home Secretary did, with air raids themselves, and I want to discuss a little the scale of damage which we may expect from air raids. It is an aspect of the subject which has been strangely neglected this afternoon, for after all, everything depends upon the scale of the damage which is likely to be done. It was calculated that in the last War, 74 tons of German bombs killed 857 people, injured 2,058, and did damage to the value of [1,500,000. Twelve years ago, the Home Secretary said that it would be possible for the air forces then in existence to drop 300 tons of bombs per day and to continue that scale of attack indefinitely. Seven years later, high authorities were agreed that the scale of attack was at least double. On that basis the amount of damage which would be done by an attack of only double what it was 12 years ago would be 6,500 dead, 16,000 injured and 10,000,000 worth of damage each day. I do not say that that calculation is necessarily valid at the present time, but I think it is probably an under-statement, because, in fact, the efficacy of bombs of every kind has very greatly increased.
§ Mr. Simmonds
The hon. Member is assuming that there are no air-raid precautions. There were very few air-raid precautions in the last War.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I am assuming that, but I will deal with that matter in a moment. I wish first to ask whether what we call active defence—fighting aircraft, anti-aircraft guns, searchlights, the balloon barrage and so on—are really going very greatly to reduce the scale of 148 attack. We had in the last War ark overwhelming force against the few Germans who attacked London. We produced comparatively little effect. It is historically untrue to say that our defensive measures stopped the German attack. The official Air historian of the War says:The only defence which is likely to be effective in the long run is an offensive more powerfully sustained than that conducted by the enemy.That is to say, strategic bombing of the enemy country. That view is entirely confirmed by our own experience with our own independent Air Force which bombed the Ruhr and the Rhineland in the last year of the War. It is entirely confirmed by the statement made by our Secretary of State for Air, in July, 1935. Lord Londonderry said then: "The increasing speed of aircraft makes the task of the defence progressively more difficult," and the speed of aircraft is still increasing.
It is entirely confirmed by the statement by the Chief of the Air Staff, Sir R. Brooke-Popham. I have not the exact words, but the effect is that it is almost impossible to bring an enemy to battle in the air unless he desires to be brought to battle. It is entirely confirmed by the policy of aircraft construction which the Government are following. Only this afternoon the Under-Secretary of State for Air, in answer to a question of mine, said that we have now at home and abroad 85 squadrons of bombing aircraft and 30 squadrons of fighters. In other words, we believe that the real defence for this country, as to three to one, or very nearly that proportion lies in bombing the enemy, and not in "active" defence of ourselves.
Finally, this argumentation is not invalidated, as some people believe, by experience in Spain and China. The number of aircraft in those wars is so small, the nature of the wars is such, the importance of not offending world opinion is so great, that the combatants have used their air forces primarily as they were used in the last War, that is to say, as auxiliaries to their land forces, and not for strategic bombing. There has been extraordinarily little indiscriminate bombing; there has been extraordinarily little bombing at night or in cloudy weather. There has only been one large-scale 149 attempt to see what indiscriminate bombing will do. That was at Guernica. There we saw the total destruction of a town of 7,000 or 8,000 inhabitants in three hours. The methods of Guernica will probably be the standard practice of the next war. I conclude this part of my observations by quoting once more an authority whom we quote very often from these benches, because I think there is no higher authority at the present time. I refer to the military correspondent of the "Times." Discussing the experience of air warfare in Spain he says:While figures cannot be given, it must be affirmed that neither fighting planes nor anti-aircraft guns will suffice to deter a squadron of bombing planes intent upon attack.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
And even then only with the utmost difficulty, because there have been a great many attempts to do so in clear weather which have not succeeded. I think it is positive from all that evidence that we cannot assume that active defence will seriously reduce the scale of damage done by air attack in times to come. If that be true, certain conclusions follow. The first is that which was put by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) when he said that His Majesty's Government had assumed a fearful responsibility when they allowed Lord Londonderry to play so great a part in defeating the Disarmament Conference. I do not want to discuss that point this afternoon. All I say is that I witnessed every meeting which took place on the subject of air disarmament, and I hope some time to have an opportunity of discussing in debate just what the responsibility of our Government really was.
It also follows that when the Government allowed Lord Londonderry to do that, they struck a terrible blow at British interests. It follows that the scale of damage which we must expect in future air warfare will be very great. On that subject nobody could be more alarmist than Lord Baldwin used to be, and let us remember that he was Chairman of the Committee of Imperial Defence for some thing like 12 years. It follows that the scale of our passive defence must be very large and that it must include a great part of our population. The Government are 150 going to provide 30,000,000 gas-masks. I do not say that that means that 30,000,000 people must be included in passive air defence, but at least 25,000,000 must be, assuming that the Government are allowing a reasonable margin for reserves of gas-masks. All these people have to receive some individual instruction in the ways in which they and their families can be protected against high explosives, poison gas and fire. That is certain to be very costly; and it is no less certain that it will take a long time to work out the necessary plans.
I confess I share with hon. Members in all quarters of the House the dismay which has been expressed at the delays and hesitations for which the Government has been responsible—not the present Home Secretary, but his predecessor. Hon. Members have spoken as though this matter first became important in 1935. It was in 1925 that the Defence Departments first began to consider the problem. I have in my possession a report of a lecture by a staff officer given, I think, in the Imperial Service Institute in January, 1926, in which he was discussing every one of the problems that we are discussing this afternoon. He was discussing the provision of gas-masks for all the civilian population, the provision of shelters, and the evacuation of the civil population. When the National Government came into office in 1931 they found in existence an Inter-Departmental Committee which had been set up by the Labour Government to study this matter. They kept the whole thing secret until the Disarmament Conference had failed. I venture to say that if this Bill had been brought forward in 1932 the Disarmament Conference would not have been allowed to fail.
In July 1934, Lord Baldwin said that studies on the subject had been carried very far; that it had been done in every country in Europe, but that "in other countries they had carried their work a great deal further than we had carried ours." He said that the next stage "involved communication with local authorities, public utility companies and so forth," and that "before long steps will be taken to communicate the necessary instructions to the general public." These steps have not yet been taken. The locusts have been at work again. Three-and-a-half years have gone by. There have been two circulars to the local 151 authorities and a conference summoned by the new Home Secretary in July of this year. During all that time the Government have spoken of the grave danger of war, but they have not made any air-raid preparations; the public have not received the necessary instructions; and the great nation-wide organisation which is required has not been created.
The Home Secretary's speech this afternoon has shown that, in spite of his energetic efforts, there is nothing like a systematic plan which has yet been made and that, in so far as there is a plan, a very considerable part of it is ineffective. I venture to say that this present Bill, the measures which have so far been taken, and the present financial provisions are all lamentably inadequate to our need. For if we are to have passive defence at all, it must be real. To those who follow the literature of the subject, it is quite plain that many people who advocate air-raid precautions do not really believe that they will give much defence. They think the precautions will keep the people quiet; that they will prevent panics; that they will maintain the morale of the civil population; but not that they will not do anything serious to defend the civil population from death and wounds. If we are to have defence at all, it must be something that holds out some hope of real defence. And I want now to discuss some features of the speech of the Home Secretary, in the hope of bringing to the attention of the House two special questions—the efficacy of the actual proposals which the Government are making and the cost which those proposals would involve if they were really adequate to protect the people of the country.
The Government's first line of defence for the civil population is their own homes, the "refuge rooms" which they are to construct at home. The Home Secretary did not say much about that this afternoon, but it appears from the Government's publications and from the answers to questions by the Under-Secretary of State that the "refuge rooms" in the people's own homes are what the Government primarily rely upon to keep the people safe. A "refuge room" has to be prepared in advance; it will cost a good deal of money; and I want to ask the Government some questions about that.
152 First, how many people in the country are there who cannot afford to set aside a room as a refuge? It has to be done in time of peace; it is no good starting on it when war has come. If everybody tried to do it at the last moment, you could not even get the necessary materials, the whole thing would fail. I have here a Government report on Overcrowding, issued last year. By their own standard of overcrowding, which Sir E. D. Simon said was a scandal because it was so low, there are nearly 2,000,000 people who are already overcrowded. Those people cannot set aside a room. In this report there is a second standard, called the "hypothetical standard." What it means is that if you allowed that no one should normally sleep in the living room, then how many by that standard would be overcrowded? This report shows that there are over 850,000 families—let us say 3,500,000 people at least—who by that "hypothetical standard "would be overcrowded and who quite certainly cannot now set aside a room to be prepared as a refuge. There are other categories explained here. I have done my best to interpret the report, and I may have got it wrong, but I believe there are something like 7,000,000 or 8,000,000 people in the country who cannot provide a room to be set aside in time of peace to be prepared as what the Government call a "refuge room." In other words, there are 7 or 8 million people who cannot have the Government's first line of defence at all, or who at the best, must improvise it at the last moment after war has started.
My second question to the Government is this: How many people can afford to prepare that room and to equip it? I went to see the exhibition in Kensington Town Hall on Friday last, and I saw there the arrangements which are proposed for the "air lock" on the door, for protecting the windows, and so on. When you have sandbagged the windows against shell splinters, when you have put in the elaborate piece of carpentry and the two large blankets which you require for the "air lock" on the door, and when you have blocked up your fireplace, you have spent quite a sum of money. In addition, you are asked to have a number of things in your refuge room. I have tried to calculate the cost of them. They include a wireless set, additional coal and food, mackintoshes, goloshes, and gum 153 boots. That is a nice little item for a family of five. They include a first-aid box and a number of other things which most working-class families would not normally have, and I doubt whether preparing a room and equipping it with those things could cost less than£10. The sum of£10 is prohibitive for a very large number of working-class families. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will be able to show that I am wrong in these calculations. I am afraid I am not.
The third question I want to put to the Government is one which has already been asked this afternoon and therefore I will not dwell upon it. It is this: Do the Government really think that the refuge room will provide much protection? First, the room itself may not be absolutely gas-proof. That is stated in one of the Government's own Air-Raid Handbooks. No. 4, page 12, where is says that in certain conditions gas may penetrate a house. My hon. Friend the Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks), who has great experience in these matters, says that the idea of the gas-proof room is "ridiculous hoaxing" by the Government, and that you could not make a room in any ordinary house really gas-proof. We have to allow for the fact that high explosive will blow in the glass of the windows in a great many refuge rooms. We cannot hope, therefore, that even against the least of the dangers, poison gas, this first line of defence will be very strong. The second line of defence, gas masks, gives me a little better hope, but I would like to ask some questions about them. What are the Government going to do about providing instruction, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Islington (Dr. Guest) said, in his remarkable speech this afternoon, is absolutely indispensable. Gas masks may be very good, but they cannot be used by people who have not been instructed in their use. That means that every family has to be taught how to use them. Moreover, the Government have not begun to find a solution, as far as we can see, for the problem of the very old people and the very young children. I am convinced that neither very old people, nor very young children, or many classes of invalids, could use gas masks. I am satisfied that the only proper solution for the problem of the 154 mother and her baby is that they both be evacuated to the safety of the countryside.
Let me pass on to the second danger, certainly a graver danger, that of high explosive. Will the refuge room be of much use against high explosive? Certainly not against direct hits. Nobody expects that. Not even against near hits. At Kensington Town Hall they offered us the prospect of buying a plate of steel inches thick which would keep out the blast and the splinters of high explosive, bursting at 50 feet. Yes, but how many people are going to buy a steel plate1½ inches thick for their windows? It cannot be done, and even if it could, the walls of a great many of the houses of our country could not resist the blast, even if the windows were protected. Nothing is more certain than that if high explosive is dropped, the people demand public shelters. It has happened everywhere in Spain; it has happened in China. I was shown a letter yesterday from a British resident in Canton. He says that the damage in Canton has been remarkably small, that it had been greatly exaggerated, but he said: "It is estimated that half the population has left the city." That means that you must have public shelters to deal with the high explosive problem and that you must have them on the largest possible scale.
I pass on to what the Home Secretary said was the worst danger—and no one will dispute it—that of fire. The thermite bomb ignites at 2,000 degrees centigrade. I have a quotation from a high French authority, Colonel Vauthier, to the effect that five medium bombers would be able to start 800 fires. The Home Secretary says 150 per bomber—almost precisely the same calculation. That is a fearful prospect. There was one fire in London in 1935, in a Wapping warehouse, which caught fire and burnt for three days, although it was next to the river and all the resources of the London Fire Brigade could be brought to bear upon it. The prospect of what might happen if 20 aircraft attacked London and engaged in indiscriminate bombing, dropping thousands of incendiary bombs, on a windy night, defies imagination. That prospect not only leads us to the conclusion that the refuge room is useless as a defence against that greatest danger, but that in many places in this country 155 there will be no adequate defence except evacuation. I have no time to deal with the duplication of public utilities, with the provision of shelters in industrial undertakngs. Both of those items must obviously add enormously to the capital cost of the work that must be undertaken. It would not be fair to ask industrial undertakings to pay the cost of making shelters for their workers. Take the Rolls-Royce works in Derby, employing 8,000 men. It would be the first objective, after the London Docks, to which a hostile enemy would go. I do not believe the Government's trench system would be possible in that works. I do not think there is the ground. In any case, it would be enormously costly for 8,000 men, and the lives of those men would be, from a military point of view, as valuable as the lives of the men at the front. The Government would have to stand that charge, or a part of it.
If you take these things into account; if you look all round the problem; if you realise that the risks are very great and that the damage will probably be very great; if you realise that you are going to need very large capital expenditure for shelters and for the preparation of evacuation schemes—the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) said in 1934 that we should have to evacuate 4,000,000 people from London alone in the first 10 days of the war; that would mean 8,000,000 or 9,000,000 people for the country as a whole; if you realise that we are trying now to organise in these 'Air-Raid Services a new army of 250,000; that you will have to build up a general staff to control them; that you have to organise a service of personal instruction for 25,000,000 to 30,000,000 people throughout the country; that you have got to meet all sorts of subsidiary charges for new equipment on a very large scale, then I say the Government's prevision of 32,000,000 spent over four years is fantastic. If are going to spend sums like that when Germany has already spent—as the hon. Member for South Norwood (Mr. Sandys) said this afternoon, and I am sure that it is true£400,000,000, we are going to lay ourselves open to the very grave danger of attacks by an enemy who will be able to deal us a mortal blow while he himself will have a much better chance of remaining immune.
156 These are the considerations which make us on this side reject the financial proposals of the Government. If we believed that they could be met by a rd. rate or a 2d. rate, we should not go on fighting. But we do not. We are convinced that the Government is only beginning its task, and that, when it makes its real plans, the cost will be far greater than anything we have before us now. And we are quite unmoved by the arguments which the Home Secretary brought forward this afternoon. He showed us, and we do not need any more proof, that air-raid precautions are an integral part of national defence. He said their purpose was to release our own Air Force for attack against the enemy. Well, that is a national purpose, an integral part of national defence policy, and therefore in equity the cost ought to fall on the Government, as the cost of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force does.
In the second place, let the House remark that it is the poorest parts of our country which are the most vulnerable. The poor live near the military objectives. No one lives near a railway station, or a factory, or a power station, if he can live anywhere else. The poor have to, and that is why they will receive the bombs. It is in those regions that the houses are weakest and will afford the least protection. It is in those regions that the population is densest, and therefore they will have the most casualties and the cost of first-aid posts, ambulance services and hospitals must be far greater than where the population is less dense. It is in those regions that costly evacuation schemes for the women and children will be needed most. It is there that the id. rate produces the least. In equity we believe that our case cannot be answered. Moreover, as my right hon. Friend the Member for South Hackney said this afternoon, swift action is essential; local autonomy is undesirable; the Government maintain the power to veto any scheme; indeed, they must approve any scheme before it comes into effect. On these grounds we believe that the control of the Government will remain absolute and that there is no case for transferring any of this charge to the local authorities.
I appeal to the Home Secretary to change the whole policy of the Government in this regard. I ask him to change 157 their policy with regard to finance. I ask him to change their policy of unending muddle and delay, to make a real plan, and to make it at once. I ask him to do what the hon. Member for Norwood so appropriately suggested, to raise the status of the air-raid department and to make it a far greater organisation than it is now. Above all, I ask the Home Secretary to make an attempt to change the foreign policy of the Government, and to go back to a policy of seeking disarmament while it may be yet attained. He said that if we can avoid the knockout blow there will be time for the forces of reason to act. The time for 1:he forces of reason to act is now. Let the Government go back to the policy they have always professed and make collective security and real air disarmament the first of all the objects that they pursue.
§ 10.33 p.m.
The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Wedderburn)
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department has been closely and personally engaged on the whole problem of air—raid precautions in the last two years. He has, perhaps, a more intimate personal knowledge of all its aspects than any one else in the House, and I shall leave to him the task of replying to the great bulk of the more technical points that have been raised in the Debate, particularly those which concern the instruction, education or training of the civil population in the various methods to be adopted to safeguard themselves against danger from air raids.
The hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker) began his observations by asking what confidence we had in the military means of protecting ourselves at the present time against aerial attack from abroad, and what reliance there was to be placed on such things as the balloon barrage or our own fighters or our antiaircraft guns. It has been repeatedly stated by the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence that it would not be in the public interest to disclose any new methods which the Committeee of Imperial Defence have evolved or have in mind for rendering ineffective the approach of foreign aircraft. But I do not think the situation is quite the same as it was a few years ago, when Lord Baldwin made the observation, which has been quoted several times in this Debate, that 158 the only effective method of preventing attack was retaliation, or getting in your blow first.
The hon. Member also referred to the example of what is going on in other parts of the world at the present time—in Spain and in China. I am not quite sure that the example of these horrors in other countries will necessarily encourage their imitation if there should be a war in Western Europe. The effects of attempts to obliterate the civil population may perhaps be the opposite of that which was intended. The effect in some parts of China seems to have been, not to discourage the civil population, but to make them more determined than they were before to fight to the last against their enemies; and it may well be that the Powers of Europe may feel that, if there is no real military objective to be achieved, they will lose more than they will gain by attempting to bomb open towns in enemy countries.
In this Bill, however, we are assuming that none of these considerations will operate; we are dealing with the worst that may befall. It is right, obviously, to take such measures as may be necessary if it does not prove possible to prevent the arrival of these bombers, and if any enemy against whom we might be engaged in war should be led to decide that it will not necessarily be to his disadvantage to attempt to obliterate the civil population in this country. That is the basis on which we must consider this Bill, bearing in mind that it is not quite so hopeless as the hon. Member, not unnaturally, assumes it to be. A good many of the speeches in this Debate have been directed towards the detailed administrative measures which will have to be carried out by local authorities, with some guidance from the Government, after this Bill has been passed into law. We have been asked what we are doing about evacuation; we have been asked what we are doing about structural precautions, about base hospitals, about the issue of handbooks to householders to inform them what they are to do for their own protection, and about the provision of public shelters by local authorities. I think that the solution of all these questions must necessarily vary a great deal between one area and another, and that it must be obvious that there is not a very great deal which could usefully be said about the details of any of them until we 159 have received from the local authorities the schemes which it will be their duty, under this Bill, to submit to us.
§ Mr. Sandys
I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend, but surely, as regards the issue of the handbook, that is not going to vary according to the area?
I was going to deal with that point. We must remember that the whole problem of air-raid precautions is an entirely new problem in our history, one which has never confronted us before, and it is not a problem that can be solved by the issue of precepts or of decrees or plans on the part of the Government. My hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys) criticised the Government on the ground that this Bill ought to have been brought in four years ago. He may possibly be right. There is a great deal to be said for that. Exactly the same criticism has often been made about our rearmament programme. We have often been told we ought to have begun the process of putting our defences in order, increasing the armed forces of the Crown, several years before we began doing so. I think there is a very close parallel between the two things, the manufacture of new armaments and the evolution of air-raid precaution schemes. In the case of armaments, it takes a very long time before 'the stuff which you want can actually be produced. Perhaps two or three years can be spent in making your plant, preparing your factories, manufacturing your machine tools or jigs; and it is not until two or three years of hard work has elapsed that you actually begin to produce large quantities of aeroplanes, guns and munitions. So it is, I think, with air-raid precaution schemes. It takes, perhaps, two or three years of preparation and consultation and inquiries of every kind before you are in a position to produce a concrete plan that can be begun to be put into effect in every area all over the country.
But, although we may be criticised for not having begun the whole thing four years earlier, I do not think it would be just to criticise the Government for delay during the last two years. All these problems which have been mentioned have been under close and constant consideration during that time. We are now in possession of some 20,000,000 gas-masks, which are ready for distribution. We are 160 already in possession of about 650 new fire appliances which we have in reserve, and the production of them can be enormously expanded directly the local authorities send in their schemes and we know exactly how many of these fire appliances they require. My hon. Friend asked just now about the issue of the handbook for households. It will not be long before that is ready, but it is a thing that takes a great deal of preparation, not only to describe what they are to do but to get the book distributed.
§ Mr. Sandys
Is it not a fact that this handbook has been prepared and ready months ago, and has been in the hands of the organisation?
The cost is certainly less than£4 15s., which, I understand, the hon. Member quoted as the figure given by Sir Malcolm Campbell, but I have no reason to think that they are any less effective.
§ Mr. Dalton
The hon. Member opposite has asked a question about the handbook; why is it not distributed?
With regard to structural precautions, a Committee was set up some time ago, under the chairmanship of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson), and I hope it will soon have its report ready. As for the question of evacuation, I am inclined to agree with my Noble Friend the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer) in doubting whether it will be practicable to remove very large sections of the population a long distance off in anticipation of an air raid or of the outbreak of war. I have already discussed at the beginning of my remarks, the possibility of preventing foreign aeroplanes from getting here at all, but assuming that we are going to be bombed, I do not think it is really possible to make people absolutely safe unless we could distribute them perfectly evenly over the whole country, and I rather doubt the 161 practicability of schemes of evacuation upon such a vast scale as those which have been contemplated by some hon. Members in this Debate. But we hope that local schemes will be worked out in collaboration between one local authority and another to provide for those cases where the worst effects may be expected.
We are paying particular attention to the problem of schools, and the Scottish Office and the Board of Education hope shortly to issue a joint memorandum to education authorities concerning the desirability of closing certain schools in particular dangerous spots in war time, and making provision for children to be sent elsewhere and providing for alterations in other schools which it may not be necessary to close down.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Are we to understand the hon. Gentleman to say that the Government do not intend to take responsibility for the organisation of these evacuation schemes or whatever may be required, and that it is to be lef t to local authorities.
No, Sir. It will be both together. All that I meant to say was that I wished to warn hon, Members not necessarily to think it practicable to do what was suggested by the hon. Member for North Islington (Dr. Haden Guest) and move the population of London to West Wales. I do not think that it is really practicable to attempt anything on that scale.
I was only making the suggestion already made officially, I understood, by the Air-Raid Precautions Department with regard to the people in the congested parts of the East End of London.
I do not think that any official suggestion was made on the same lines as that put forward by the hon. Member. My hon. Friend the Member for North Lanark (Mr. Anstruther-Gray) expressed some concern as to whether the recruitment of personnel for air-raid precautions would not conflict with recruitment for the Army or for the Territorials. I can reassure him on that point. We are acting in close cooperation with the War Office and our air-raid precautions arrangements have been worked out in consultation with General Kirke, the Director-General of the Territorial Army.
162 The main burden of criticism which has been brought forward this afternoon has been by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) and others, who have criticised the Bill on the ground that its financial provisions are inequitable. The right hon. Gentleman had to put forward two separate cases. He had to put forward the case which he represented as being that of the local authorities, which was not the same as his own case, and then he had to put forward his own case, which was on rather different lines. The local authorities, he assured us, would be quite happy with the provisions of this Bill provided there was a limit of 2d. on the expenditure which they might incur and that the Government would undertake to pay certain other expense. In default of detailed schemes from local authorities it is, of course, quite impossible to produce detailed evidence showing that in any particular case the burden on the rates will not be more than some particular figure. But I should be very much surprised indeed if in any reasonable case the burden falling on the local rates could approach to anything like the figure of 2d.
The hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) some little time ago referred to the burden likely to fall on Glasgow. Of course until we have details of the Glasgow scheme one cannot give any definite evidence. The highest figure I have seen quoted, which I may say is in excess of anything which the Scottish Office estimate as likely, is that published by certain of the members of the corporation to the effect that the expense of this Bill to Glasgow will be in the neighbourhood of Li,000,000. I do not think it will be as much as that. But for the sake of argument I am taking that figure and on that basis I have had a careful calculation made to see what the capital burden would be on the rates, and I find that even if the capital cost in four years is as much as£1,000,000, and even allowing a further sum of£40,000 a year after that, the burden on the Glasgow rates under this Bill will amount to exactly 0.86d. or about four-fifths of a penny. If you are to take the highest figure of 2d. the cost would have to be a perfectly astronomical figure before it would reach that sum, because everything over four-fifths of a penny is 163 paid in the case of Glasgow to the extent of 85 per cent. by the Exchequer.
I find it difficult to imagine any reason, even in the case of a local authority, in which the burden could possibly approach a very large sum. If we were to make this concession, which the right hon. Gentleman says would satisfy the local authorities, what would be the result? It would have no effect whatever—certainly not in 99 cases out of rno. The only possible authority, which would be that one out of rno that conducted its affairs without regard whatever to economy and with the utmost reckless ness—[Interruption]
I do not know if that would please the local authorities. Although the Government have to approve the general scheme it is impossible to approve the details of the expenditure, the contracts which they have to make with particular firms, and so on. The right hon. Gentleman has already given the example of the Addison housing scheme. This scheme had, of course, the approval of the Government, but the effect of paying everything over a id. rate was that the cost of the houses rose from£300 to somewhere in the region of£1,100. The case of the right hon. Gentleman himself was not that we should guarantee everything over twopence, but that the entire cost should be paid by the Government, and that would, of course, remove all incentive to economy. The right hon. Gentleman asked why we did not include the cost of the Army, Navy and the Air Force in our estimates. The Army, Navy and Air Force are not controlled by the local authorities. The local authorities have control over the fire brigades, but the right hon. Gentleman said that they did not want to have independence in this matter. With great respect, I know quite a number of local authorities who would be exceedingly annoyed if the control of the fire brigades was taken out of their hands by the Central Government.
The right hon. Gentleman will forgive me for saying that it seemed to me that the views he put forward on the Bill really lacked conviction. He gave us a very interesting story of the negotiations between 164 the local authorities and the Government, in which he seemed to have carried on a rather successful process of Oriental bargaining, gradually getting the Government up from one figure to another. He still says that he is not satisfied. He may perhaps remember the words in the Bible:It is naught, it is naught,' saith the buyer; but when he is gone his way, then he boasteth.The right hon. Gentleman is still in the position of declaring that, "It is naught," but I think that many local authorities, some already openly and many secretly in their hearts, are congratulating themselves on the terms they have received from the Government. I believe that the views of most of them will be found to coincide with those of my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham (Sir R. Melier), who spoke with great and deep knowledge of local government administration in this country and who in his invaluable and admirable speech gave support to all the provisions of the Bill, including the financial provisions.
The right hon. Gentleman ended by declaring that the Bill was necessary, but he qualified that statement by representing that it would not have been necessary had it not been for the foreign policy of the Government. For my part, I am thankful that the foreign policy of this Government has averted from our people the horrors which this Bill is intended to mitigate.
Mr. De la Bère
Is the hon. Member aware that the British banks diverted£40,000,000 to the French State railways?
Whatever the views of the right hon. Gentleman may be on foreign policy, we have always felt that the Bill is necessary and I am confident that there will be no delay on the part of the local authorities, and there will certainly be none on the part of the Government, in carrying out these measures which we hope may never have to be applied but which we must be prepared to undertake for the safety of our people.
§ 10.59 p.m
§ Mr. Churchill
The House has listened with a great deal of good will to the very excellent and well-reasoned speech of the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland on this important subject. My hon. Friend has dealt with many of the points which have been advanced in the Debate in a mariner which showed the serious spirit in which he has approached a study of this question. He has indulged in one or two observations the candour and honesty of which we must all greatly appreciate, and upon which I may be called upon to make some observations in the course of to-morrow's Debate. At any rate, when upon a matter which affects our hearths and homes, our lives and freedom we find the Hereditary Standard Bearer of Scotland standing up to commend the Government Measure to us, our hearts are raised to an extremely cordial sense of appreciation.
§ It being Eleven of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.